Restoring Felon Voting Rights in Florida

Florida state senator Mandy Dawson is asking again for a constitutional amendment to restore voting rights to Florida's felons who have completed their sentences:

With state and national Democratic leaders concerned about a new purge of felons from voter rolls, state Sen. Mandy Dawson wants the party to support a constitutional amendment that would restore felons' rights -- including the right to vote -- once they have completed their prison sentences.

The issue is clouded by race because of the disproportionate number of blacks in the state who have felony records and are unable to cast ballots. Democrats are concerned that blacks, long loyal voters for their candidates, will refrain from voting this year, fearing a repeat of the 2000 presidential election. Thousands of eligible voters were turned away from polls that year because they had mistakenly been purged from the voting lists as felons. Many of them, in fact, had no criminal records.

This is the fifth year Sen. Dawson has sought such an amendment. It's not likely to happen this year. Jeb Bush opposes it. But it should. Here are the numbers.

In 42 states, felons' rights are restored once they serve their prison sentences. Florida is among the remaining eight where convicted felons are denied the right to vote and restricted from working certain jobs and collecting some benefits, such as financial aid for college.

An estimated 410,000 Floridians cannot vote because they are felons, more than in any other state, according to the Florida Equal Voting Rights Project, a joint program of the American Civil Liberties Union of Florida, Florida Legal Services and the Florida Justice Institute. More than a third are black, according to the ACLU, although blacks make up less than 15 percent of the state's population.

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