There are more than 1.5 million Floridians who are not allowed to vote because they’ve been convicted of felonies.
Constitutional Amendment 4 proposes to immediately restore the lost right to the vast majority of people with felony convictions who have completed their sentences, excluding only those convicted of murder or sex offenses.
The initiative, called the Voting Restoration Amendment, was approved for placement on the Nov. 6 ballot in January when a group called Floridians for a Fair Democracy obtained the needed 766,200 to get it there.
The American Civil Liberties Union has been a major supporter of the initiative. Reports show the organization has contributed nearly $4 million in cash to the effort and spent thousands more to provide in-kind contributions.
The restoration of felon voting rights has long been an issue in the state.
In 2007, then-Gov. Charlie Crist provided an opportunity for more than 100,000 ex-felons to regain their rights ahead of the 2008 presidential election. The move became controversial when Barack Obama won the state and experts theorized many of the new voters Crist had allowed to register to vote were African-American and Democrats
An item fast tracked by Scott and his Cabinet a month after Scott took office in 2011 replaced the Crist-era reform and established a requirement that felons must wait at least five years before applying to the Office of Executive Clemency for a review of their criminal case.
The right to vote, serve on a jury or hold public office would remain withheld until the short staffed Office of Executive Clemency got around to completing its review, under the Scott plan. It was endorsed by some law enforcement officials and prosecutors, who argued convicted criminals should be required to prove they were indeed ready to return to society.
Influential Democrats, including now U.S. Rep. Crist and Florida gubernatorial nominee Andrew Gillum, support Amendment 4. Florida Rights Registration Coalition, Our Revolution, New Approach PAC, Floridians for a Fair Democracy and Reentry Alliance Pensacola are among the groups who have joined the ACLU in support of the proposal, according to the Florida League of Cities website.
“Americans believe in second chances. We need to make sure that Florida Law does too,” Floridians for a Fair Democracy told the League of Cities. “These are our family members, friends, and neighbors who have already repaid their debts to society.”
Floridians for a Sensible Voting Rights Policy and outgoing Florida House Speaker Richard Corcoran are among those opposed to the passage of Amendment 4.
“If it passes, neither you nor anyone else will ever be allowed to consider the specifics of the crime or the post-release history of the criminal before that new voter registration card is issued,” Richard Harrison, executive director of Floridians For A Sensible Voting Rights Policy, told the League of Cities.