Floridians approve restoring felons' voting rights

Former felon who did have rights restored turned away Tuesday

JACKSONVILLE, Fla. – Florida added 1.4 million possible voters to the rolls when it passed Amendment 4, which said most felons will automatically have their voting rights restored when they complete their sentences and probation.

"This was not a political vote. It was a vote of love," said Desmond Meade, president of the Florida Rights Restoration Coalition, the nonprofit group that spearheaded to put the amendment change on the ballot.

Convicted sex offenders and those convicted of murder are exempt. The measure needed 60 percent of the vote Tuesday to pass; it received 64 percent of the vote.

Supporters said the state's current system was too difficult and arbitrary. It required felons to wait at least five years after completing their sentence before they could file a request with the governor and cabinet -- who then considered the requests individually.

Florida's long been considered "ground zero" for disenfranchised felons by voting rights groups.

Of the 6.1 million disenfranchised felons in the U.S., about 1.7 million live in Florida -- the most of any state, Mauer said. Only 12 states disenfranchise people for a felony conviction after they've served their sentence, he said.

Voting rights advocates say there are about 1.7 million former felons in Florida, and about 1.4 million people will be able to vote. Nearly all states allow felons to vote after completing their sentences.

About a third of the 1.4 million people affected are African-American. The largest percentage of disenfranchised felons are white, he said.

"I'm thrilled that the people of Florida finally brought the state out of the 19th century and into the 21st century," ACLU Florida Director Howard Simon said.

Whether the newly enfranchised will choose to exercise their right to vote is still an open-ended question. Republican strategist Mac Stipanovich said the burden falls on the political parties to register them.

“You've got to reach them to get registered, then you've got to reach them to get them to vote," Stipanovich said.

Even if only a small fraction cast ballots it could turn the tables in 2020.

“We're talking about a state wherein hotly contested statewide races are often decided by 100,000 votes or less," Stipanovich said. "So a pool of a potential 1.5 million votes is pretty significant.”

On Tuesday, News4Jax talked to former felon Jerod Powers, whose voting rights were restored 16 years ago, when the process was not only possible, but almost automatic. He said he really wanted to vote for Amendment 4 to help people like him who had served their time, but was told by Duval County election officials he could not vote.

"It never really occurred to me until I got down here with my boys," Powers said. "They said, 'Hold on a second,' and they have to call the supervisor of elections the find out what went on."

When we checked Wednesday on Powers' voting status, election officials said they were still investigating.

The State Board of Executive Clemency will still have the final say on restoring other rights, like the ability to own a firearm. 

The process of implementing a change is in the hands of the newly elected governor and cabinet.  
A pending Federal Lawsuit is challenging the constitutionality of the clemency process put in place under Gov. Rick Scott for being too subjective.

Governor-elect Ron DeSantis, who opposed Amendment 4, has said he believes in a more objective process.

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