Florida voters will decide this fall whether 1.5 million felons will get their voting rights back, the Orlando Sentinel reports. Floridians for Fair Democracy, led by Desmond Meade of Orlando, successfully gathered more than 799,000 certified signatures in a years-long petition drive, just a week before the deadline to reach the required total of about 766,000. The state has certified the initiative for the Nov. 6 ballot. If approved by 60 percent of voters, the amendment would restore voting rights to Floridians with felony convictions after they complete their sentences, including parole or probation. Those convicted of murder or sexual offenses would continue to be barred from voting.
“The moment I found out, tears just started streaming down my face,” said Meade, a former addict convicted on drug and firearm charges in 2001. Though he earned a law degree, he could not vote for his wife, Sheena, in her unsuccessful bid for the Florida House in 2016. If the amendment becomes law, it could have a huge effect on elections in a state as evenly split politically as Florida. Gov. Rick Scott was elected and re-elected by margins of fewer than 65,000 votes, while President Trump defeated Hillary Clinton by fewer than 120,000 votes. Darryl Paulson, a conservative and an amendment supporter, said while most former felons support Democrats, only a third of former felons would register if allowed. Only about a fifth would actually ever vote, he said. Florida is one of just three states that permanently bans ex-felons from voting unless they get clemency. A board made up of Republican Gov. Scott and his cabinet members meets four times a year and hears 50 to 75 cases each time, restoring rights to about half. There is a backlog of about 12,000 people awaiting clemency hearings.