Desmond Meade served three years in prison for gun possession before turning his life around and graduating from law school in 2014. Meade couldn’t vote in last year’s elections—not even for his wife, a Florida House candidate, the Wall Street Journal reports. That’s because he is among about 6.1 million felons who have served their time and lost their right to vote, of whom about 1.7 million live in Florida. Virginia, Kentucky and Iowa are the only other states with voting bans, which can be lifted only through the clemency process. Other states impose waiting periods or require felons to complete parole or probation requirements. Meade plans to be court today when the Florida Supreme Court reviews a proposed constitutional amendment to allow felons, except for murderers and sex offenders, to vote after they finish their sentences, parole and probation.
Meade, of Floridians for a Fair Democracy, is leading the petition drive to put the amendment on the 2018 ballot. Since 1997, 23 states have made it easier for people with felony convictions to vote again, says the Sentencing Project, which advocates an overhaul of crime laws. This year, Nebraska is considering a bill that would eliminate a two-year waiting period. Critics of automatic restoration of voting rights argue that voting is a responsibility, not a right, and that felons should have to take steps to earn that right after leaving prison. President Trump attacked Virginia Gov. Terry McAuliffe for using executive orders to restore voting rights to felons after release from prison. “He’s letting criminals cancel out the votes of law-abiding citizens,” Trump told a Virginia rally the day before his election. The efforts in Florida and Virginia reflect a nationwide push by criminal-justice activists to alleviate “collateral consequences” of incarceration.