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Felons Win Right to Vote in Florida

Florida voters passed Amendment 4 this week, restoring voting rights to certain felons after they have served their sentences, including prison terms, parole, and probationary periods. Those convicted of murder and sexual offenses will still be barred, under the former rule. In a state that has historically crowned victors by slim margins, this change could make a world of difference.

Under Current System, Over 20% of Eligible African-American Voters Disenfranchised

Though the law against former felons voting had been around prior to Governor Rick Scott taking office in 2011, Scott had notoriously limited the number of former felons he allowed to vote. For instance, more than 150,000 Floridians had their voting rights restored during Charlie Crist's four years in office. Conversely, while Gov. Rick Scott has been in office since January 4, 2011, just over 3,000 people and had their voting rights restored.

Currently around 1.5 million Floridians are barred from voting under this rule, which is a staggering 10% of Florida's adult population. This law disproportionately affected African-American voters, where 20% of that population had been stripped of its right to vote. To put this 1.5 million in perspective, it appears Scott will win the U.S. Senate race over current U.S. Senator Bill Nelson by 20,000 votes. (Votes are still being counted as of this writing, and a recount seems inevitable.) In Florida, every vote matters. Just ask Al Gore.

Prior Law Barring Felons From Voting Deemed Unconstitutional

Amendment 4 has its roots in a recent federal court case. This past February, a federal judge ruled Florida's procedure for restoring voting rights to felons was "nonsensical" and unconstitutional, in violation of the 14th Amendment. "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," U.S. District Judge Mark Walker said. "Its members alone must be satisfied that these citizens deserve restoration. ... The question now is whether such a system passes constitutional muster. It does not."

The next step, therefore, was to turn the matter over to the citizens for a vote, which they needed to pass by a supermajority, or 60%. Amendment 4 passed with 64% of the vote.

If you feel you or someone you love should have their voting rights reinstated for similar reasons, contact a local civil rights attorney. Our great country was built on the premise of government of the people, by the people, for the people. Make sure that you, and your beliefs, are represented.

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