Over 1.6 million Floridians, and more than one in five African-Americans in the state, are disenfranchised because of a past felony conviction — raising real questions about Florida’s status as a full democracy.
Now, a ballot initiative to address the problem has crossed a key hurdle — though it’s still a long way to the finish line.
The Florida Supreme Court ruled Thursday that a ballot measure to restore voting rights for non-violent ex-felons who have completed their sentences and any probation and parole can go forward. The state’s top court must approve Florida ballot measures to make sure that they’re written clearly and address only one issue.
To get the court hearing, organizers gathered around 75,000 signatures. But to get the measure on the ballot for November 2018, they’ll need to amass around 700,000 more by next February. Then, of course, they’ll need to convince voters to approve it.
An effort to get the measure on the 2016 ballot failed to gather enough signatures.
Florida is one of only three states — Kentucky and Iowa are the others — that disenfranchise felons for life. Those who want to vote again can apply to the governor to have their rights restored. But Gov. Rick Scott, a Republican, has made the process significantly harder since taking office in 2011, requiring most ex-felons to wait five years after leaving prison before they can file a clemency petition. Scott has said he supports the existing restrictions.
Like many felon disenfranchisement laws, Florida’s was enacted soon after the Civil War, and was aimed at undercutting the potential voting power of emancipated slaves. More than a quarter of the roughly 6.1 million U.S. victims of felony disenfranchisement laws live in Florida.