States Advancing Measures to Restore Voting Rights to People with Felony ConvictionsApril 26, 2017

New proposals would make it easier for people with felony convictions to have their voting rights restored in Florida and Nebraska.

In Florida, the state supreme court has unanimously approved language for the Voting Restoration Amendment, a constitutional amendment that would restore voting rights to most people when they complete their prison, probation, or parole sentences. The amendment does not include people convicted of murder or felony sex crimes.

The Supreme Court decision was a major victory for Floridians for a Fair Democracy, whose petition for a constitutional amendment gathered more than 75,000 signatures. The group now needs another 700,000 signatures in order to get the amendment on the 2018 ballot.

The Sentencing Project reports that 1.7 million people (more than 10 percent of the voting population) are disenfranchised in Florida because of a felony conviction; nearly 1.5 million have fully completed their sentences. People with nonviolent felony convictions may petition the governor to have their voting rights restored, but must wait five to seven years after completing their sentences before they can apply. 

 "You have to wait years to apply, then you get on a waiting list and at Governor Scott's pace, 2,000 felons in seven years [have had their rights restored], divide that into 1.7 million and figure out how many years it's going to take to get people their voting rights back," said American Civil Liberties Union of Florida president Mike Pheneger.

In Nebraska, the state legislature voted 27-13 on Monday to restore voting rights to people with felony convictions automatically when they complete their sentences to prison, probation, or parole.

In 2005, the state reduced its indefinite ban on voting rights for people with felony convictions to a two-year waiting period. Before that, people with felony convictions had to receive a state pardon in order to have their voting rights restored.

Voting bans on felons grew in popularity during the 1800s as a way to prevent freed slaves from voting, the Omaha World-Herald reports. The bill's sponsor, Senator Justin Wayne of Omaha, said repealing the waiting period is seen as a way to help former prison inmates more quickly reintegrate into their communities.

Legislative BIll 75 would impact about 7800 people who would be immediately eligible to have their voting rights restored.