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Advocates Expand Campaign to Restore Civil Rights to Florida Ex-Felons

Ex-felons can vote in Florida under a new amendment. Photo: Renata Sago.
Florida is one of three states where formerly convicted felons must petition before a clemency board to have their civil rights restored. Photo: Renata Sago.

Hundreds of volunteers behind a campaign to restore voting rights to Florida’s 1.5 million ex-felons will meet Thursday in Orlando as part of a three-day conference hosted by the Florida Rights Restoration Coalition. The group of attorneys, pastors, long-time voting rights advocates has been campaigning for more than three years to change a state law that permanently bars formerly convicted felons from voting, serving on juries, and taking the Florida Bar.

"This is, by far, the biggest grassroots effort I’ve seen since I’ve been in Florida," said Desmond Meade, executive director of the Florida Rights Restoration Coalition. "We’re really excited about the energy surrounding this campaign, and we’re excited to build on it."

According to a report from advocacy group, The Sentencing Project, ten percent of Floridians cannot vote, the largest concentration of disenfranchised citizens in any other state. Florida is one of three remaining states where ex-felons must petition before a clemency board to vote in a process that could take years. Meade says Florida lags behind states like Texas and Mississippi.

The Florida Rights Restoration Coalition reached a milestone in April when the state Supreme Court approved ballot language for the proposed change. Now, volunteers are working to collect 683,149 petition signatures in order for the proposed change to appear on voters’ ballots.

“There’s just a wide variety of ways in which people are engaging. At libraries, at grocery stores. There’s people that are having house parties. There’s people that are talking to their neighbors and friends," said Meade.

Volunteers are aiming to submit its signatures by December 31st, which would allow for the proposed amendment to end up on voters ballots in the 2018 elections.