January 23, 2018 / 6:51 PM / 4 months ago

Floridians to decide on ending lifetime ban on voting for felons

(Reuters) - Floridians will be asked in November whether to restore voting rights to people convicted of serious crimes who have completed their sentence after campaigners collected enough signatures on Tuesday to get the proposal included on the ballot.

Nearly 1.5 million Floridians who have completed their sentences after a felony conviction remain disenfranchised, campaigners for the constitutional amendment say.

Almost all states deny incarcerated people the right to vote, but Florida, an often crucial state in presidential elections, is one of only four to not automatically restore the franchise to people after they have completed their sentence.

Felons have been disenfranchised in Florida since 1868, but have been able to petition for clemency to get those rights restored. In 2011, Florida Governor Rick Scott and other state Republicans toughened restrictions, and the number of approved petitions dwindled to a few hundred a year.

On Wednesday, the Florida Department of State approved inclusion of the Second Chances Voting Restoration Act initiative on the ballot for the elections in November after the number of approved signatures surpassed the required 766,200.

The proposed amendment must get at least 60 percent of the vote in November to pass. It would change the Florida Constitution to automatically restore voting rights to felons who have completed the terms of their sentence, but not for those convicted of murder or serious sexual crimes, who would still have to petition the state.

“Voters took matters in their own hands to ensure that their fellow Floridians, family members, and friends who’ve made past mistakes, served their time and paid their debts to society are given a second chance and the opportunity to earn back their ability to vote,” Desmond Meade, a spokesman for the Second Chances Florida Campaign, said in a statement.

Political scientists say the voting ban can sap votes from both parties, but some research suggests that Democrats pay a steeper price. This is partly a result of the disproportionately high incarceration rates among black Floridians, who tend to lean Democrat.

Reporting by Jonathan Allen; Editing by Bernadette Baum

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