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Florida Supreme Court Weighs Ex-Felon Voting Rights

The Florida Supreme Court
Nick Evans

Florida Supreme Court justices are considering allowing hundreds of thousands of ex-felons to vote. They heard arguments from Floridians For a Fair Democracy on a ballot initiative that would restore voting rights for residents who have completed their sentences.

Desmond Meade, the group's president, said he turned his life around after being incarcerated for drug crimes in the in the early 2000s. But the Orlando resident and more than a million others in the state can’t vote. He’s collecting signatures for a constitutional amendment to change that.

“I think that this is rooted in fairness," he said. "You know, once a person has served their time, have paid their debt to society, they should be given that opportunity to have their voices heard. Especially if you talk about they’re paying taxes as well.”

Florida is one of three states who bans people convicted of a felony from voting for life. It’s the only state that requires people to wait at least five years after finishing their sentences, including parole or probation, before applying to get that right back.

“I think it speaks to a lot of the frustration that a lot of citizens are feeling because the current process is so arduous, you know, a lot of people have just given up hope," Meade said. "You know, I’ve had a lady speak to me, she thinks she’s going to die before she gets to vote again.”

Gov. Rick Scott made it harder for ex-felons to vote in 2011.If it gets on the ballot next year, the constitutional amendment would need 60 percent approval to take effect.

Sarah Mueller is a journalist who has worked for media outlets in several states since 2010. She earned her bachelor’s degree in journalism in 2010 and worked as a print reporter covering local government and politics.