America will be looking to Florida on Tuesday as the state holds both Democratic and Republican primaries; with 214 delegates, it is one of the biggest primary prizes. Unfortunately, over 1.5 million people in Florida will be unable to exercise their voting rights.
All convicted criminals in Florida cannot vote, regardless of the extent of their offense. Due to disproportional rates of incarceration, this means 1 in 4 African-American men cannot vote; this is a terrible means of voter suppression and disenfranchisement.
Many convicted felons are incarcerated due to nonviolent crimes such as drug possession, but in most states, they are able to vote following a temporary ban. However, Florida takes this to an extreme—it is “one of three states where returning citizens are permanently denied the right to vote unless they individually petition the governor to win their rights back.”
Very few people have had their voting rights reinstated, and there are over 11,000 on the waiting list for this.
As ThinkProgress reports, individuals such as Sheena Meade, who is running for Florida’s state legislature, are working to change this: “Meade is gathering signatures for a ballot initiative to amend the state constitution to allow Floridians convicted for non-violent crimes to automatically have their voting rights restored after completing their prison sentence, parole and probation.”
The current process is extremely difficult, with year-long waiting periods, hundreds of questions, and hearings with boards. “The process you have to go through is almost identical to the one you go through when asking for a pardon. It’s insulting that as an American citizen I basically have to beg to be a citizen again,” Meade says.
The difference in policies between states is staggering; in Maine, people within prison can send in ballots, while Florida completely disenfranchises any and all convicted criminals. There needs to be consistency within states, and individuals such as Meade are vital to granting millions of Americans their fundamental voting rights.
Unfortunately, despite Meade's best efforts, over 1.5 million Americans on Super Tuesday III will not have their voices heard.
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