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What may happen with felons’ voting rights in Florida

Starting on Jan. 8, 2019, many convicted felons in Florida may have the right to vote. However, what will happen in a practical sense is not yet clear.

First, there are no definite numbers on how many felons live in the state. According to the Cornell University Prison Education Program, 1.5 million convicted felons in Florida are not in jail or prison. However, some cannot vote until their period of probation or parole is up while others cannot because of the nature of the crimes they have been convicted on, such as rape or murder. This leaves around 1.1 million people who might become eligible. Estimates from other organizations have put the number at 1.4 million.

Another question is how the state will interpret whether or not someone has completed the sentence. For example, a person might have finished a prison term but still owe fines and fees. This is the case in 30 states. One estimate says that more than one-third of felons who might qualify still have some fines and fees they may be too poor to pay. Another problem may be that some felons are unaware their right to vote has been restored. In a previous system of clemency, few felons registered to vote, and among those who did, they voted far lower than the state average.

The possibility of losing the right to vote is one of several problems a person may face on release from prison, and this may be one reason that some people may want to continue pursuing legal action even if an appeal has failed. Many people may assume that nothing more can be done at that stage, but they may want to discuss post-conviction matters with an attorney. If there have been procedural errors or other issues with the case, it might be possible to get relief.