In less than 60 days, Florida voters will head to the polls to decide if felons, who have served their time and paid their dues, should be able to get their voting rights back.
How voting rights restoration is treated is different in each state, according to the National Conference of State Legislatures.
In 22 states, felons lose their rights until they complete their sentence.
In 14 states, and the nation’s capital, felons only lose their rights while they’re incarcerated.
In Maine and Vermont, felons never lose their rights. In Florida, 1.5 million felons still have not regained the right to vote.
Action News Jax reporter Courtney Cole reports the historical origin of the issue and shares the story of one felon using her setback to make a change.
Quiana Malone, an organizer for Color of Change PAC, said she felt stuck in 2009 after being released following an 18-month jail sentence.
"Where do I live?" Malone said. "If you’re a convicted felon, it’s not easy to find a place to live. Where do you work?"
As a Florida resident, another question she had was: Will I ever get my voting rights back?
While Malone wasn’t comfortable talking about what crime she committed, she did say it took her four years to get her first job.
“It’s not always easy getting help, because you’re labeled,” Malone said.
INTERESTED IN LEARNING MORE? Email Quiana here for more info
Right now, there are about 6.1 million people in the nation who can't vote due to a felony conviction.
"The Clemency Board currently has a backlog of over 100,000 cases. Its a very slow moving process. Very few people have their rights restored." --Dr. Natasha Christie @ UNF sits down to talk Amendment 4 and how the outcome could change future elections...On @ActionNewsJax at 5:30 pic.twitter.com/6rY0Q4WJFE— Courtney Cole (@CourtneyANJax) September 10, 2018
Here’s how it works in Florida: After a felon serves their time and pays any fines related to their crime. He or she must wait between five and 10 years (depending on the crime) for the opportunity to apply to the governor for clemency.
The Clemency Board currently has a backlog of more than 10,000 cases, according to Natasha Christie, Ph.D. She’s the chair of the Political Science and Public Administration Department at the University of North Florida.
"So even though there is a process to get your rights restored, it’s a slow moving process,” Christie told Action News Jax.
If Amendment 4 does pass in November— a felon’s rights to vote would automatically be restored after their full sentence is completed.
Murderers and sex offenders would not be qualified to regain their rights.
“It could change the way the state looks,” Christie said.
As you may remember, the controversial presidential election in 2000 was decided by 537 votes in Florida.
Christie said the idea of taking voting rights away comes from a European concept known as "civil death."
“Civil death essentially meant that you were no longer a part of society. So when many states were creating their constitution, they automatically just included that."
Over time, more than half of the states in the nation have readjusted their constitutions.
“Florida, in a sense, is behind, because they have not been willing to change… look at how society changed since the constitution was founded,” Christie said.
Until a change is made, Malone said she will continue to try and help other felons readjust to society through her nonprofit called 1 Step Up.
"Without a voice, we’re pretty much paying into something we’re getting nothing out of,” Malone said.
Interested in learning more or volunteering with Malone’s nonprofit? Email her at email@example.com.
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