The ability to vote is an important part of the civil rights of citizens in the United States, unless you are a felon living in Florida or one of the other states that bars ex-convicts from voting.
There are over six million individuals that are affected by those restrictions. Florida is home to the largest group, numbering over 1.5 million people. However, an advocacy group started by some of those felons in Florida is hoping to change that through legislation that has made it onto the ballot for a decision in November.
If approved, the new legislation would restore voting rights to anyone in the state who has completed their full sentence, including probationary periods and restitution, except for individuals who have been convicted of sex crimes or murder. Given that it would restore voting rights to more than a million people at once, it may be one of the most significant civil rights ballots to be decided since the Suffrage movement.
It also stands to largely benefit the state’s black population. They are disproportionately convicted of felonies, so they are disproportionately affected by laws that restrict the rights of former felons. Florida, in particular, still suffers from the legacy inherited from the state’s “Black Codes,” which were designed to disenfranchise black voters in the first place. While many other states have repealed laws that had the effect of negatively affecting one race more than others, Florida has not.
Advocates for the legal change point out that people who are convicted of a crime are supposed to be given another chance once they pay their debt to society. It’s important to understand that many felony convictions are for low-level crimes, like drug possession and theft. When people are permanently barred from voting due to a relatively minor crime, that second chance is somewhat of an illusion.
If you are charged with a felony of any kind, it’s important to discuss your situation with an experienced defense attorney before you talk to the police or consider a plea deal. You may be giving up important rights that you don’t yet understand in exchange for what only seems like an easy sentence.