Florida voters line up behind constitutional amendments


Constitutional Amendment 4 - known as the Voting Restoration Amendment - was passed in the state, allowing almost 1.5 million convicted felons who've served out their sentence to vote.

Florida was one of three states where those convicted of a felony permanently lose their right to vote, the others being Iowa and Kentucky.

Previously, Florida was one of just four states in the U.S. that automatically and permanently revoked voting rights from anyone who had been convicted of a felony-level crime.

In a statement, ACLU of Florida Executive Director Howard Simon celebrated what he called "one of the largest expansions of the franchise in our nation's history" but warned that the fight was not over.

But Republican Governor Rick Scott and the Cabinet ended automatic restoration of voting rights as one of Scott's first acts upon taking office in 2011.

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To be eligible, former prisoners must complete their sentences and all the terms of their release, including probation.

People convicted of murder and sexual offenses are exempt from the amendment and won't have their rights automatically restored. "In the days and weeks ahead we will seek to work with newly elected Governor to ensure that Amendment 4 is implemented as intended by the Floridians who placed it on the ballot and voted to approve it-without delay and without imposing more burdens on the process to register to vote".

Critics railed against the proposal, saying it would make it far more hard to pass such measures at the state level.

John Sowinski, president of Voters In Charge, the political committee behind the proposal, said the amendment puts people -- not politicians and lobbyists -- in control of casino gambling. They also argued that such laws disproportionately impact African Americans. The amendment was supported by progressive groups, civil liberty organizations, conservative groups aligned with the Koch brothers, and a bevy of celebrities.

"If we want people returning to society to be productive, law abiding citizens, we need to treat them like full-fledged citizens", Freedom Partners Chairman Mark Holden wrote in his endorsement. The Brennan Center for Justice estimates that 6 million Americans are barred from voting due to their criminal records. If another million people are added to the voter rolls, it could affect the balance of power in a state largely controlled by Republicans on the state level.