Floridians get amendment to restore felons' voting rights on ballot

Posted at 5:30 PM, Jan 24, 2018
and last updated 2018-01-25 05:10:43-05

TALLAHASSEE, Fla. (WTXL) - When Floridians head to the polls in November, the ballot will include an amendment to restore voting rights to former felons.

According to the Florida Division of Elections, more than 800,000 Floridians signed a petition by Floridians for a Fair Democracy to put the "Voting Restoration Amendment" on the ballot. (The number of valid signatures required to put a proposal on the ballot is 766,200.)

"This definitely gives hope," said Gregory James, the pastor at Life Church International.

James has been praying for change. He hasn't been able to vote because of a past felony conviction.

"It's so important that when these men and women like myself and others have done their time, have paid their debt, give that right back to vote," he said.

James has advocated for voting rights for former felons for years and explained why this amendment gives them a second chance.

"It's kind of like if you paid your car off, the thing that insures you the right that you have that car is the title," he said. "You don't pay the car off and keep paying on the car and keep paying on the car, so this is one step to men and women -- being able to have the title to say that I'm back as a citizen again."

The push for restoration has been a long journey. In 2016, WTXL talked to Oceo Harris, who's been out of jail for more than a decade.

"Even when they're going through the process of change, there is no hope," he said. "There is no prosperity, because the choices that you made then are constantly going to follow you."

If 60 percent of voters approve the amendment, nearly one and half million Floridians would have voting rights restored -- a significant group that could play a big role in future elections.

"Each of those people have individual experiences with the criminal justice system often with racial justice issues, and getting them to the polls will allow a more level playing field," said local activist Lakey Love.

Love said she's pushing to pass what will be called Amendment 4 on the ballot, adding that Florida believes in second chances.

"It's time for Florida to grow up and join the 21st century, and I think that's what this will do," she said.

The amendment would allow those who have fully completed their sentences -- including parole, probation and restitution -- to vote. It would still ban those who have committed murder or a felony sexual offense.

The vote is on November 6.