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Passing of Amendment 4 could increase number of Florida voters by nearly 1.5 million

Amendment 4 needs 60 percent of vote to pass

MIAMI – When Florida votes, the number of future voters could grow by nearly 1.5 million. That's how many people whose voting rights could be restored if Amendment 4 passes.

Currently in Iowa, Kentucky and here in Florida, if you're convicted of a felony, you automatically and permanently lose your right to vote.

"When I go around and I talk to folks about this issue, the two main responses I get is, 'I didn't know,' and, 'That's stupid,'" Angel Sanchez said. 

Sanchez is a member of the Florida Rights Restoration Coalition -- the grassroots organization that helped get the more than 1 million signatures needed to put Amendment 4 on the ballot.

If it passes, anyone convicted of a felony in Florida would be eligible to vote after they've completed their sentence, including Sanchez. 

"The law took me away from Miami, and the law brought me back to Miami," he said. 

Sanchez is now in his second year of law school at the University of Miami.

But at the age of 16, he was convicted of attempted murder and armed robbery, for which he served 12 years in prison.

"The idea that someone can get out and pay taxes but never be part of the social fabric," Sanchez said. "We really believe in redemption and second chances, and we believe in Florida, once a debt is paid, it's paid in full."

Sean Foreman, meanwhile, is a political scientist with Barry University.

"One argument against this amendment is that this isn't the proper fix," he said. 

Under the amendment, voting rights would not be automatically restored to those convicted of murder or sex crimes.

The state has a process in place: The governor and members of his cabinet make up a clemency board, which meets quarterly to decide whether ex-felons get their rights restored.

Felons have to wait at least five years before they can apply.

Thousands are waiting in the backlog.

"Is this a social justice issue, or is this a political issue?" Local 10 News reporter Layron Livingston asked.

"It depends on which way you want to slice it," Foreman said. "It's a little bit of both."

Pass or fail, Sanchez said he'll keep fighting for people like him.

"There's nothing more fair than a person who has paid their debt to be recognized as having paid their debt," Sanchez said. 

For now, the current clemency process is on hold for many looking to get their rights back. A federal judge ruled it unconstitutional.

State officials are appealing. 

Amendment 4 would need 60 percent of the vote for it to pass.

About the Author:

Layron Livingston made the move from Ohio's Miami Valley to Miami, Florida, to join the Local 10 News team.