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Elections

Florida voters approve Amendment 4 on restoring felons’ voting rights

 

TALLAHASSEE

About 1.2 million convicted felons in Florida will automatically have their right to vote restored, thanks to a ballot measure that received about 65 percent of the vote Tuesday.

At least 60 percent of voters had to approve it for Amendment 4 to become law.

For the past seven years, felons have had to wait five years after completing their sentence to even apply to have their voting rights restored.

The movement to reform the state’s notoriously strict restoration process was championed by the Florida Rights Restoration Coalition, a bipartisan group led by convicted felons. The group collected more than 800,000 signatures to qualify Amendment 4 for the 2018 ballot.

“Right about now, we can presently say that we have made history,” said Rhonda Thomas, manager of the “Let My People Vote” campaign. “We are just ready to go forth and see greater things take place in the state of Florida.”

Approval of the amendment ends Florida’s outlier status as the state with the most people permanently barred from voting — only two other states ban felons from the polls for life.

Amendment 4 restores the right to vote to convicted felons who have completed all terms of their sentences, including probation and restitution, but excludes those who are convicted of murder or sex crimes. Those people will still be barred from voting unless their rights are restored by the state clemency board, which consists of the governor and the three cabinet officers (attorney general, chief financial officer and commissioner of agriculture and consumer services).

While the campaign had wide bipartisan support and little organized opposition, some candidates stated they did not support the measure.

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Republicans like gubernatorial candidate Ron DeSantis and Gov. Rick Scott, nominee for U.S. Senate, said they were opposed.

Scott has said, “If you are a convicted felon part of what you did is you lose your rights and there ought to be a process to get those rights back. I think it is fair to the rest of the citizens of the state.”

Both Democratic opponents, incumbent Democratic Sen. Bill Nelson and Tallahassee Mayor Andrew Gillum, supported Amendment 4.

Throughout the campaign, the ballot measure gained star-studded support from the likes of “Orange Is The New Black” author Piper Chapman, John Legend, Ben & Jerry’s Ice Cream, NFL stars like Warrick Dunn and even the Koch-backed Freedom Partners.

Strong financial support came from donors like the American Civil Liberties Union, which paid for more than $5 million in advertising on TV and social media, in both English and Spanish.

In a statement, the ACLU said the passage of the amendment removes an “ugly stain” that has been in the Florida constitution since the Civil War.

“Florida voters made a resoundingly clear statement that the state’s shameful lifetime ban on voting is not consistent with the values of democracy,” the group wrote.

Under the current process, felons must appeal to the state clemency board for a hearing. The board meets four times a year. The current process can take more than 10 years to complete and because of the restrictive laws, Florida once barred more former felons than any other state.

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