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Florida voters approve amendment to restore right to vote for felons who have served their time

Amendment 4 required 60 percent approval to pass.

November 7, 2018

Florida voters during Tuesday’s midterm elections approved Amendment 4, automatically restoring voting rights in the state for people previously convicted of felonies.

Florida’s Amendment 4 restores voting rights for people in the state convicted of felonies as long as they have completed their sentences, although anyone convicted of murder or felony sex offenses would be excluded.

Based on the Sentencing Project’s 2016 estimates, this benefits more than a million people. The organization estimated in 2016 that nearly 1.5 million people in Florida have completed felony sentences but can’t vote — about 9.2 percent of the voting-age population in Florida. The total, though, includes some people convicted of murder and felony sex offenses, so not every one of those people benefits under Amendment 4.

That's a quarter of the total number of people nationwide who are forbidden to vote because of a felony conviction.

Black people, who are disproportionately arrested and incarcerated, will benefit the most. In 2016, more than 418,000 black people out of a black voting-age population of more than 2.3 million, or 17.9 percent of potential black voters in Florida, had finished sentences but couldn’t vote due to a felony record, according to the Sentencing Project. (Again, this includes some people convicted of murders and felony sex offenses.)

The amendment was officially supported by Floridians for a Fair Democracy, which gathered more than 1.1 million petitions to put it on the ballot. It received bipartisan endorsements from the American Civil Liberties Union and the Koch brothers–backed Freedom Partners.

Most states have at least some voting restrictions for people convicted of felonies. Most often, the law bars people who are currently in prison from voting. Some prohibit voting until a person finishes parole or probation, too.

The journey to bring Amendment 4 to the ballot wasn't short or easy.

Floridians for a Fair Democracy, the organization behind the measure, said it took more than two years to get it on the ballot. It needed 766,200 petition signatures to appear, and the state approved it in January.

"We are a nation of second chances," Desmond Meade, the group's chairman, said at the time.

Meade, a felon who went on to earn a law degree, had to wait three years to get his voting rights restored. The Orlando resident was convicted of drug and firearm charges in 2001.

The newly approved measure made Florida's ballot after the Florida Rights Restoration Coalition, a grassroots membership organization led and ran by formerly convicted persons, collected more than 800,000 signatures needed to qualify the amendment.

The measure even garnered celebrity attention -- pop star Rihanna urged Floridians to approve the measure. 

"VOTE YES on Amendment 4 to restore voting rights to folks who have already paid their debt to society," Rihanna tweeted.

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