Florida voters will decide next fall whether about 1.5 million felons will regain the right to vote in time for the 2020 presidential election.
If state voters approve the ballot question, they will restore the right to vote to nearly one-fourth of the nation’s former prisoners who committed felony offenses, according to the Sentencing Project, a liberal nonprofit that researches criminal justice issues.
Florida has proved to be a crucial state to Democrats and Republicans in winning the White House, so a large number of votes by those who did time for felonies could be a factor in the outcome of statewide races.
About 9.3 million Floridians voted in the 2016 presidential election, according to Politico. Donald Trump won the state by 119,770 votes to secure its 29 votes in the Electoral College.
“Now is the time to return the ability to vote to Floridians who have done their time and paid their debts,” Floridians for a Fair Democracy, the activist group behind the ballot question, said on its website.
“These are our family members, friends, and neighbors who have earned the opportunity to participate in and give back to their communities,” the group said. “It’s simply the right thing to do.”
The state certified it had gathered enough signatures to place the amendment to the state Constitution on the ballot Nov. 6, the organization announced last week.
A supermajority of state voters, 60 percent, is required to amend the Constitution.
It’s “a bad idea to provide automatic restoration” of the right to vote, Hans von Spakovsky, a senior legal fellow at The Heritage Foundation, said of the Florida measure.
“There ought to be, at a minimum, a waiting period,” von Spakovsky, who manages the think tank’s Election Law Reform Initiative, told The Daily Signal, pointing to the high recidivism rate among felons.
“The majority [of felons] will be back in prison in three years,” he said in a phone interview. “We should wait to see if they have turned over a new leaf, to see if they deserve the right to vote.”
Founded in 2014, Floridians for a Fair Democracy has raised nearly $5 million for the cause, The Washington Post reported, citing state records.
The American Civil Liberties Union also pledged $5 million to the campaign, the newspaper reported.
Florida was the site of the crucial recount in a razor-thin 2000 presidential contest between Republican George W. Bush and Democrat Al Gore, which the Supreme Court ultimately decided in Bush’s favor.
The proposed constitutional amendment specifically excludes those who have commited murder or felony sexual abuse from regaining the right to vote.
Felons would have to complete their sentences, including probation, parole, and restitution.
Floridians for a Fair Democracy said it gathered about 64,000 more than the 766,200 valid signatures of voters needed for such a ballot initiative. State law requires the number of signatures to be at least 8 percent of the total number of votes cast in the last presidential election.
Florida is one of four states, including Iowa and Kentucky, that completely bar felons from voting once they do their time.
Virginia excludes them, but then-Gov. Terry McAuliffe, a Democrat known for his connections with Bill and Hillary Clinton, granted 168,000 felons the right to vote in 2017.
Those behind the Florida referendum appear to care only about felons’ votes, Heritage’s von Spakovsky said.
He noted that “you lose many other rights when you are convicted of a felony,” such as the right to serve on a jury and the right to own a firearm.
“Why aren’t they going for a full restoration of their rights?” he asked.