Florida approves ballot measure to restore voting rights to former felons

Florida approves ballot measure to restore voting rights to former felons
South Florida voters cast their ballots Tuesday at a polling center in Miami. Florida voters approved an amendment that would restore voting rights to convicted felons who had finished serving their full sentence. (RHONA WISE/AFP/Getty Images)

Floridians voted on Tuesday to pass Amendment 4, which restores the right to vote for convicted felons who have already finished serving their full sentence and who were not convicted of either murder or sexual crimes.

What does the amendment say?

The text of the new amendment reads:

This amendment restores the voting rights of Floridians with felony convictions after they complete all terms of their sentence including parole or probation. The amendment would not apply to those convicted of murder or sexual offenses, who would continue to be permanently barred from voting unless the Governor and Cabinet vote to restore their voting rights on a case by case basis.

What does this mean?

The decision over whether or not to allow a convicted felon to vote, and when or if that right is restored, varies widely by state. In Maine and Vermont, for example, felons can vote even while still serving out their sentences. Other states, like Florida before Tuesday, banned them from ever voting once they had a felony conviction, even years after their full sentence had been completed.

Before this ballot initiative passed, felons in Florida could only have their rights restored by appealing to the governor. However, in February a federal judge ruled that it was unconstitutional to leave this decision to the sole discretion of a partisan politician.

During his two terms in office, former Gov. and now Senator-elect Rick Scott had restored the voting rights of roughly 3,000 felons who had served out their sentences. His predecessor, Democrat Charlie Crist, had granted this right to 150,000 felons during his single term in office.

CNN, citing data from the nonprofit Sentencing Project, estimates that this new ruling could make 1.5 million more people eligible to vote. To put that in context, 13 million Floridians registered to vote for the 2018 midterm elections. The measure pass with 64.47 percent of the 7.9 million people who voted in favor of it.

This amendment received support both from liberal groups like the American Civil Liberties Union, and from Freedom Partners, which is funded by Libertarian billionaire Charles Koch.