Advocates hope to get felon voting rights on 2016 ballot

By Troy Kinsey, Capitol Reporter
Last Updated: Friday, September 11, 2015, 6:17 PM EDT

In a drive that could have sweeping electoral implications, advocates for Florida's roughly two million convicted felons are working to place an amendment on the 2016 ballot that would reverse the state's policy against the automatic restoration of felon voting rights.

The policy, which was briefly lifted during the administration of former Gov. Charlie Crist, was reinstated in 2011 with a vote by Gov. Rick Scott and the Florida Cabinet. It requires felons to wait at least five years after the completion of their sentences before they're allowed to apply for a hearing on reinstatement of their voting rights.

The amendment drive, which is being spearheaded by the Florida Rights Restoration Coalition, seeks to convince Floridians that felons who have done their time have earned the right to once again become full-fledged members of society.

"We all make mistakes. Some of us pay for our sins in prison. Some of us pay for our sins with cash," convicted felon Lashanna Tyson said at a rights restoration rally on the Florida Capitol steps.

The effort, however, faces significant challenges, not the least of which is the required collection of nearly 700,000 signatures from registered voters. The collection deadline is Feb. 1.

"To get on the ballot, usually, that can only be done with paid signature gatherers. And then, the Supreme Court would have to do a review before it even got on the ballot. So, frankly, I think it is a long shot for November 2016," said Reggie Garcia, a clemency attorney and author of the forthcoming book "Second Chances."

In parallel with the signature gathering campaign, recently-filed legislation by state Sen. Jeff Clemens, D-Lake Worth, seeks to place an automatic felon rights restoration amendment on the ballot through legislative approval. With the Legislature overwhelmingly controlled by Republicans, the bill's prospects are seen as slim.