Felons regaining the right to vote in Florida

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BAY COUNTY, Fla. (WJHG/WECP) - Most Americans celebrated our country's independence for the Fourth of July and with that comes a lot of rights including the right to vote. However, in some states the right to vote isn't guaranteed.

"We just want to change the law and give people a second chance," Edward Mason said. Mason is a paid petitioner for Floridians For a Fair Democracy.

"But I do choose the issues that I choose to get signatures for," Mason said. On Wednesday he set up outside the Bay County Government Center to gather signatures for the Voting Restoration Amendment.

"Florida is the harshest state in the United States with this issue," Mason explained. "Forty-seven other states automatically reinstate that civil right to their citizens once their sentence is completed."

Mason is a conservative Republican. He says the amendment would restore voting rights to non-violent felons. It's an issue that cuts across party lines.

"This issue is a non-partisan issue so we're working right along with our Republican friends to get this petition on the ballot for 2018," Candice Burgess, the President of the Democratic Women's Club, said.

The Democratic Women's Club in Bay County is also working to restore voting rights to felons. "People who have been given their rights back are much more likely to not commit crimes in the future," Burgess explained, "and that's actually from a study with the Florida Parole Commission."

Those in favor of the amendment say it'll take more than 700,000 signatures to get the issue in front of lawmakers in Tallahassee.

"It is very unfair to people who are good citizens in our country and desiring to vote and they can't do it," Emmett Hill said. Hill signed the petition Wednesday for the Voting Restoration Amendment.

Florida is one of four states that strips the rights of felons to vote. The amendment will not give voting rights back to people who committed violent crimes or sexual offenses. So far, Floridians For a Fair Democracy have gathered more than 100,000 signatures for their petition.

Representatives with the Democratic Women's Club say in 2014 there was an attempt to get this issue in front of lawmakers. Those for the amendment say that those signatures will no longer apply to this year's efforts.