Florida Supreme Court considers voting rights amendment

TALLAHASSEE, Florida (AP) — The Florida Supreme Court is being asked to approve the wording of a proposed amendment that could allow convicted criminals to vote.

Backers of the amendment went before the high court on Monday. Justices must decide whether the amendment is misleading.

Florida’s constitution bars people convicted of felonies from being able to vote after they have left prison. Convicted felons must ask to have their voting rights restored.

The amendment would allow most convicts to have their rights automatically restored after they have completed their prison sentence. Felons convicted of murder or a sexual offense would not be eligible.

Amendment supporters still must gather more than 700,000 signatures to place the amendment on the 2018 ballot.

An attorney for Attorney General Pam Bondi said she is not taking a stance on the amendment wording.

More than 1.6 million Florida residents — including nearly one in four African Americans — are currently barred from the polls in Florida because of the state’s strict disenfranchisement law.

The amendment could add roughly 1 million more voters to the rolls. Only those convicted of murder or felony sexual offenses would be excluded.

Florida currently has one of the strictest felon disenfranchisement laws in the country — only Florida, Kentucky, Virginia, and Iowa permanently bar those with felony convictions from voting for life, unless they seek clemency.

Florida’s Supreme Court on Monday heard arguments about whether or not to allow voters to decide on the Voting Restoration Amendment. Arguing on behalf of Floridians for a Fair Democracy, the group that’s leading the effort in favor of restoring voting rights, attorney Jon Mills claimed that the amendment meets the requirements to be put on the ballot.

“The question would have to be, ‘have you completed all terms of your sentence?’” he said, explaining how the state’s voter registration form could easily be changed from asking citizens about any felony convictions to asking whether the voter has completed his or her sentence.