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Florida restores voting rights to more than 1 million felons

Florida has approved an amendment that will automatically restore voting rights to more than a million people previously convicted of felonies.

Felons who finish their full sentences, including fines, probation and parole, will now be allowed to vote in the state. The new law does not apply to anyone convicted of murder or sex offenses.

Florida’s Amendment 4 passed Tuesday after exceeding the 60% threshold required to become a law.

“Over 60% of Florida voters took a stand for fairness and voting rights, and to remove an ugly stain that has been in our state’s constitution since the Civil War era,” ACLU Executive Director Howard Simon said in a statement.

When it goes into effect, an estimated 1.5 million people in Florida who have completed felony sentences but have not been able to vote could show up to the polls, according to the nonprofit Sentencing Project.

That’s a quarter of the total number of people nationwide who are forbidden to vote because of a felony conviction.

“This victory is the culmination of decades of hard work,” Simon said. “For too long, Florida has been an extreme outlier — our state’s lifetime voting ban was the single most powerful voter suppression tactic in the country, shutting more people out of the voting booth and out of our democracy than any other single law or policy in the country.”

The journey to bring Amendment 4 to the ballot wasn’t short or easy.

Floridians for a Fair Democracy, the organization behind the measure, said it took more than two years to get it on the ballot. It needed 766,200 petition signatures to appear, and the state approved it in January.

“We are a nation of second chances,” Desmond Meade, the group’s chairman, said at the time.

Meade, a felon who went on to earn a law degree, had to wait three years to get his voting rights restored. The Orlando resident was convicted of drug and firearm charges in 2001.

Voting rights nationwide

What happens to a person convicted of a felony varies from state to state, according to the National Conference of State Legislatures.

Florida was one of 13 states where felons face a lifetime ban, need a governor’s pardon or have to wait an additional amount of time in order to have their voting rights restored.

There, a person had to apply to the governor for clemency, but could do so only after a waiting period. In the end, it was up to the governor.

Unlike Florida, felons in many other states don’t lose their rights or lose them only temporarily.

In Maine and Vermont, felons never lose the right to vote.

In 14 other states and Washington, D.C., they lose their rights only while incarcerated.

In 22 other states, they lose their rights until they complete the terms of their sentence, such as parole.