By: Amy Heath

Currently in the United States, 6.1 million people are disenfranchised because of a prior felony conviction.[1]  Of those 6.1 million ex-felons disenfranchised, nearly 1.5 million of those disenfranchised live in Florida.[2]  Florida’s implementation of laws that prevent felons from voting goes back to its 1839 Constitution.[3]  Currently, a felon may petition to restore his voting rights if certain conditions are met.[4]  A Florida felon’s may only begin to restore his voting rights after he completes prison, parole, probation, and some post-sentence waiting period.[5]

The Florida Constitution vests clemency power in the Governor.[6]  A governor may discretionally restore the right to vote to some felons, while denying that right to others.[7]  Currently, all convicted criminals in Florida, regardless of the felony committed, must wait five to seven years after completing their sentence before they may begin the voting restoration process through a governor and the appointed clemency board.[8]  While there is a process that ex-felons can follow to restore their rights, this process is rarely successful.[9]  Under the former Florida governor, more than 155,000 nonviolent felons regained their voting rights.[10]  However, under current Florida governor, Rick Scott, that number has dropped to just 1,952 individuals.[11]

Fortunately for Floridian ex-felons, this exhaustive restoration process may change.  In March 2017, the Florida Supreme Court will hear arguments on a proposed constitutional amendment that would allow felons—except murderers and sex offenders—to have their voting rights restored after they complete prison and probation.[12]  A political action committee, Floridians for a Fair Democracy (hereinafter “FFD”), are pushing for the change and gathered the signatures required for Supreme Court review.[13]  If the Florida Supreme Court approves this Proposed Amendment, it would be put up for a vote on the 2018 ballot.

When the Florida Supreme Court rules on the merits of public initiative amendment, it confines its judicial review to whether a proposal deals with a single subject, and whether the brief summary appearing on the ballot accurately informs voters what it is about.[14]  FFD argues that the proposed amendment meets these requirements.  Their proposal is not bogged down in complex legalese; FFD argues that their proposal explains in clear, unambiguous language the chief purpose of the amendment.[15]  Simply put, FFD argues that a felon’s voting rights should be restored after completing sentencing, parole, and probation.[16]

Even if the Florida Supreme Court allows this Proposed Amendment on the ballot, the ballot must receive 60 percent approval in order to amend the Florida Constitution.[17] If this ballot initiative was on the presidential 2016 ballot, it is likely that this Proposed Amendment would not have received the necessary 60 percent approval.  Luckily, if the Florida Supreme Court approves the proposed amendment, FFD will have over a year to mobilize and possess the ability to drastically change felons voting rights. FFD meets the burden required of them by the Florida Constitution. The Florida Supreme Court should recognize this and allow felon voting rights to be on the 2018 ballot.


[1] See Christopher Uggen et al., 6 Million Lost Voters: State-level Estimates of Felony Disenfranchisement, 2016, The Sent’g Project 3 (Oct. 6, 2016) (highlighting the number of felons currently disenfranchised in the United States).

[2] See Alice Ollstein, More than 1.5 Million Florida Voters Will Be Missing From Tuesday’s Primary, Think Progress (March 14, 2016),

[3] See Johnson v. Governor of Florida, 405 F.3d 1214, 1218 (11th Cir. 2005) (discussing the trend of felon disenfranchisement laws in Florida and its long history).

[4] See Fla. Stat. § 940.05 (2014) (explaining that restoration will be granted only by receiving a pardon, serving the maximum sentence imposed, or being granted release by the Florida Commission).

[5] See Uggen et al., supra note 8, at 4 (listing Florida among the most restrictive states in the nation).

[6] See Fla. Const. art. IV, § 8(A) (providing that the clemency process is solely an executive branch function).

[7] See Beacham v. Braterman, 300 F. Supp. 182 (S.D. Fla. 1969) (ruling that a man who was refused the right to register solely because he was a convicted felon was constitutional).

[8] See Verity, 2014 WL 3053171, at *1 (explaining the expansion of the clemency rules put into place under Governor Scott).

[9] See Uggen et al., supra note 8, at 13 (highlighting that of the 1.5 million felons disenfranchised in Florida, only 271,982 restorations have been given out from 1990-2015).

[10] See Dan Sweeney, Florida’s Felons Inch Closer to Regaining Right to Vote, SunSentinel (Dec. 31, 2016),

[11] See id.

[12] See id.

[13] See id.

[14] See Fla. Const. art. XI, § 3 (“[T]he power to propose the revision or amendment of any portion or portions of this constitution by initiative is reserved to the people, provided that, any such revision or amendment … shall embrace but one subject and matter directly connected therewith.”).

[15] Floridians for a Fair Democracy, Opinion Letter on Voting Restoration Amendment (Nov. 22, 2016)

[16] Voting Restoration Amendment Text, Floridians for a Fair Democracy, (last visited Jan. 24, 2017).

[17] Supermajority Vote Requirements, NCSL, (last visited Jan. 25, 2017).

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