Effort to Restore Voting Rights for People with Past Criminal Convictions Clears Key Hurdle in Florida

April 20, 2017

State Supreme Court Approves Ballot Initiative that Could Amend State Constitution

Tallahassee – The Florida Supreme Court approved the text of a ballot initiative that, if approved by the voters, would amend the state’s constitution to restore voting rights to certain Americans with past criminal convictions who have completed their sentences.

The Court heard oral arguments over the initiative March 6, and was tasked with evaluating whether the text met the state’s rules for how constitutional amendments must be written. The matter appeared before the Court after ballot initiative sponsors received more than 68,314 signatures from Floridians last year, which triggered an automatic review. Additional signatures are required before the text appears on the ballot for voters to decide.

Florida is currently one of three states to permanently deny voting rights to people with past criminal convictions. A recent report by the Brennan Center for Justice at NYU School of Law traced the law’s origins back to America’s Jim Crow past, and found it disenfranchises 1.6 million citizens, including 21 percent of the state’s voting-age African Americans.

“People with past convictions are living and working in Florida’s communities just like their neighbors,” said Kwame Akosah, an Equal Justice Works Fellow at the Brennan Center. “They should have a second chance to participate in their democracy and make their voice heard.”

There has been national momentum for rights restoration in recent years. In the last 20 years, more than 20 states have made it easier for people with past convictions to vote, vote sooner, or access the right to vote more easily according to the Brennan Center’s report on Florida’s strict law.