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Mon Jul 17, 2017, 10:20 AM

The latest challenges to the South's felony disenfranchisement laws


While all Southern states have laws disenfranchising people while they are incarcerated and on probation or parole, Florida stands out with one of the nation's most restrictive felony disenfranchisement laws one of only four states that impose a lifetime ban on voting for anyone convicted of a felony. The others are Virginia, Kentucky and Iowa.

Because of the law, there are currently nearly 1.7 million Floridians the highest number in any state that have permanently lost the right to vote, according to a 2016 report by The Sentencing Project. Florida accounts for 27 percent of the national population of people disenfranchised due to felony convictions, and the 1.5 million Floridians who have completed their sentences but remain without voting rights make up 48 percent of the national total.

But they could get that right back thanks to a ballot initiative now underway to amend the state constitution and allow people with felony convictions to vote once they complete their sentences, including probation or parole.

This spring, the Florida Supreme Court approved the language for the initiative, which was drafted by Floridians for a Fair Democracy, a coalition of nonpartisan civic and faith organizations. But for the amendment to appear on the ballot next November, its supporters need to collect and submit over 700,000 signatures to county elections supervisors, who will need to verify them by Feb. 1.

That's a huge number of signatures to collect in a relatively short time. But Desmond Meade, president of the Florida Rights Restoration Coalition (FRRC) that's leading the collection effort, said he and his fellow activists are encouraged by the grassroots support the ballot initiative has already gotten, even without an organized campaign.


Tayna Fogle, an activist with Kentuckians for the Commonwealth who has a felony conviction, emcees a voting rights rally in Kentucky in 2015. There are currently over 312,000 people in Kentucky who cannot vote due to the state's felony disenfranchisement laws. (Photo by Steve Pavey via Kentuckians for the Commonwealth on Flickr. Used with permission

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