Florida Voters to Decide Whether 1.5 Million Felons Will Get Voting Rights Restored

** ADVANCE FOR WEEKEND, FEB. 5-6 ** Washington state prisons Lt. Clan Jacobs, left, walks through a block of cells at the Washington Corrections Center in Shelton, Wash., Wednesday, Feb. 2, 2005. The prison is the most crowded in the badly crowded state system, and many of the two-bunk cells …
AP Photo/Ted S. Warren

Florida voters will decide this November whether 1.5 million felons will get their voting rights restored thanks to a ballot initiative approved Tuesday by the state.

The ballot initiative was started by the advocacy group Floridians for Fair Democracy, which obtained more than 799,000 signatures in a years-long petition drive to get state residents to vote on whether convicted felons should have the right to vote after serving time, the Orlando Sentinel reported.

They surpassed the 766,000 signatures needed to reach the state requirements for certifying a ballot initiative in Florida. As a result, the initiative will appear on Florida’s ballot for the 2018 election on November 6.

The Miami Herald reported that the initiative will appear on the ballot alongside listed candidates for a U.S. Senate seat, governor, congressional seats, state legislature seats, three Cabinet members, and other ballot initiatives.

It would appear as Amendment 4, which would ask voters whether they want to change the state constitution and “terminate” the voting ban for ex-felons, the Tampa Bay Times reported.

If 60 percent of voters approve of the initiative, there would be an amendment to Florida’s constitution that would allow Floridians with felony convictions to vote after serving time — including probation or parole.

But not all convicted felons would be able to vote — those convicted of murder or sex crimes would not be eligible to have their voting rights restored.

Desmond Meade, the chairman of Floridians for Fair Democracy who spearheaded the petition drive, said the measure would directly impact him should it pass.

“The moment I found out, tears just started streaming down my face,” said Meade, an ex-felon who served time for drug and firearm charges and obtained a law degree after his release, referring to the measure’s placement on the ballot.

Florida is one of three states that bars ex-cons from voting unless they receive clemency from a board consisting of Gov. Rick Scott and members of his Cabinet.

Darryl Paulson, a Heritage Foundation member and supporter of the ballot initiative, said that although most ex-felons support Democrats, studies show that only one-third of those convicted felons would register if given a chance.

“It runs both ways,” said Paulson, an emeritus professor of government at the University of South Florida-St. Petersburg. “Democrats clearly support the issue because they believe they will benefit, and Republicans tend to oppose it because they believe they will be hurt.”

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