1.5 million ex-felons can now vote in Florida


Floridians approved a constitutional amendment to automatically restore voting rights to people with felony convictions once they complete their sentences, a historic move expanding the right to vote to about 1.4 million people and reverses a state policy rooted in the Jim Crow South.

With 70 percent of precincts reporting, multiple news outlets are now calling it for Amendment 4.

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.

The amendment does have its problems. When Republican Gov. Rick Scott took office in 2011, he changed the rules of the process and required people to wait five to seven years before they could begin to apply.

Florida was one of four states with a constitution that permanently disenfranchises residents with past felony convictions. "If you are a convicted felon, part of what you did is you lost your rights", Governor Scott argued earlier, going on to defend the appeal process which was already in place. Amendment 4 was driven to the ballot by Floridians for a Fair Democracy, which launched the Second Chances campaign in support of the amendment in January, according to the Brennan Center for Justice.

"In Florida, elected, partisan officials have extraordinary authority to grant or withhold the right to vote from hundreds of thousands of people without any constraints, guidelines, or standards", the judge said.

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Approximately 1.5 million people are now barred from voting in the state because of a past felony conviction - a figure representing about 10 percent of Florida's adult population.

"For too long, Florida has been an extreme outlier", concluded ACLU of Florida executive director Howard Simon. "A USA district judge found Florida's current system arbitrary and unconstitutional in March, and the case is under appeal", the Pensacola News-Journal reported on Tuesday evening.

Before this ballot initiative passed, felons in Florida could only have their rights restored by appealing to the governor.

John Sowinski, president of Voters In Charge, the political committee behind the proposal, said the amendment puts people - not politicians and lobbyists - in control of casino gambling.

CNN, citing data from the nonprofit Sentencing Project, estimates that this new ruling could make 1.5 million more people eligible to vote.