Voting-rights effort finds a new venue in constitution commission

Ricky Deaton of Operation New Hope. Photo: Will Dickey, Florida Times-Union

Florida Times-Union by Tia Mitchell
October 27, 2017

The committee traveling the state on a mission to improve Florida’s constitution is hearing one message over and over.

“Every place we’ve gone around the state, every single time we’ve had public comment, a full third have mentioned restoration of rights,” said Chris Smith, one of 37 members of the state Constitutional Revision Commission.

Voting rights are revoked in Florida when a person is a convicted of a felony. It’s one of just three states with such a rule, the others being Iowa and Virginia. Florida has disenfranchised 1.5 million people because of felony convictions, according to the nonprofit Sentencing Project, which says that figure includes 21 percent — more than one in five — of the state’s African-Americans. Florida’s disenfranchisement rate is the highest among the 50 states, according to the organization, which said Florida is connected to more than a quarter of the people nationwide who have lost their right to vote.

For years a coalition of civil rights groups has been working to get enough signatures to put on the ballot a constitutional amendment that would automatically restore voting rights to people convicted of felonies.

Floridians for a Fair Democracy, led by the American Civil Liberties Union, has a proposal slated for the 2018 general election that would allow ex-felons to vote once they have completed their sentences, including probation or parole, as long as they weren’t convicted of murder or sex crimes.

The initiative has been slow-going. The coalition has verified about 35 percent of the 766,200 signature needed to get on the ballot. That is far short of their goal of having 1 million signatures in hand by the end of 2017.

Now there is another way. The Constitutional Revision Commission, which by law meets once every 20 years, can put items directly on the ballot, no signatures needed. The only requirement is agreement from 22 of 37 commissioners. [READ MORE]

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