Voting Rights Restoration Efforts in Florida
A summary of current felony disenfranchisement policies and legislative advocacy in Florida.
On January 23, 2018 Floridians for a Fair Democracy announced that their campaign, Florida Second Chances, had surpassed the 766,200 signature threshold to get an amendment on the 2018 ballot that would give the ability to vote back to Floridians with felony convictions that have completed their sentences. Florida is an outlier in denying voting rights, with one of the most punitive disenfranchisement policies in the country. As a result, if this constitutional amendment passes in November, over 1.5 million Floridians would be eligible to register to vote.
Florida has the highest disenfranchisement rate in the country. It is one of three states, along with Iowa and Kentucky, to permanently bar all citizens with felony convictions from voting. Currently, Floridians can only regain the ability to vote if they individually apply to the state Office of Executive Clemency and their application is one of the few granted. The amendment would give Floridians who have already served their time a second chance at democratic participation.
Read more about the impact of felony disenfranchisement in Florida and the nation as a whole on the Brennan Center's publications and research page.
For many years, Florida’s harshest-in-the-nation disenfranchisement policy has received attention from policymakers and advocates alike.
In March 2011, Gov. Scott eliminated Gov. Crist’s reforms and created additional barriers for people seeking to have their voting rights restored. The Brennan Center and other national civil rights organizations strongly opposed the plan in a joint letter to the Florida Clemency Board. The American Probation and Parole Association also submitted its own letter encouraging the Board to maintain Gov. Crist’s clemency reforms.
In April 2007, then-Gov. Charlie Crist took an incremental step towards reform when he issued revised rules of executive clemency. Notably, this change created automatic rights restoration for people completing sentences for certain felony convictions. A year later, in 2008, Gov. Crist’s office announced that over 115,000 Floridians had regained voting rights since the new rules were implemented.
In 2000, the Brennan Center and co-counsel, representing more than 600,000 citizens, filed a lawsuit – Johnson v. Bush – that challenged Florida’s permanent disenfranchisement constitutional provision. The 11th Circuit Court of Appeals, sitting en banc, ultimately allowed the law to stand.