Amendment 4, proposed by Floridians for a Fair Democracy — funded primarily by the American Civil Liberties Union — would restore voting rights to former felons who have completed their sentences, including parole and probation.
The amendment would not apply to former felons convicted of sexual offenses or murder, who would still be barred from voting unless their rights were restored by the state clemency board.
For the past seven years, the felons have been required to wait five years after completing their sentences to apply to regain the right to vote.
The state clemency board considers those requests during their meetings, which only happen four times a year. The current process can take more than a decade to complete. Because of the restrictive laws, Florida excludes more former felons from voting than any other state.
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The clemency board meets next on Dec. 5, which is about one month after the election but still several months before the Legislature meets. Lawmakers must pass legislation to enact any potential amendments.
If passed, about 1.6 million people in Florida could be affected. Studies show that high civic engagement can lead to lower recidivism rates.
While the issue is being posed by the amendment in November, the voting restoration system is facing a legal battle of its own. In March, U.S. District Judge Mark Walker deemed the voter restoration system unconstitutional, but the state won a stay of his injunction as an appeal heads to the U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in Atlanta. Arguments were heard in July, but the case is unlikely to be resolved before November.
Gov. Rick Scott and others say offenders should have to prove why they should regain the right to vote, as they are required to under the current clemency process.
In order to become law, each of the amendments on the ballot must be approved by a 60 percent vote.
A vote “yes” means felons who have served their sentences, parole and probation can have their civil rights restored so long as they are not convicted of murder or a sexual offense.
A vote “no” means felons who served their sentences can have their civil rights restored so long as they appeal to the clemency board, which is made up of the governor, attorney general, chief financial officer and commissioner of agriculture and consumer services. The governor also has the sole power to deny clemency. Even if the other three members of the board are in favor of restoring someone’s rights, if the governor votes no, clemency for that person is denied.
In Florida, a convicted felon cannot vote, serve on a jury, or hold public office until civil rights have been restored.