Tampa City Council supports felon voting rights measure

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Murder, carjacking, and writing a bad check all carry felony charges in Florida.

There are about 1.6 million convicted felons in the sunshine state and the majority never their voting rights restored.

A proposal that will appear on the November ballot could make way for some felons to have their rights restored after serving their full sentences. 

Coral Nichols has a passion for making a difference. Nichols was convicted of embezzlement 14 years ago. She served five years in prison and is still working through 10-years of probation.

"I use what's happened in my life to help other people pick up the pieces of their life, and become contributing members of society," she said. "If I can change, anybody can."

She's turned her life around, working as vice president at the non-profit Empowered to Change, but Nichols is still paying a price for her past.         

As a convicted felon, she's banned from owning a firearm, serving on a jury, and casting a vote.

"I learned who I was and what I believed in, and how firm I wanted to stand in certain convictions," said Nichols. "But I don't get a voice, I don't get a say on things that speak so powerful to me."

In November, Floridians will have the chance to restore voting rights to most of the nearly 1.6-million ex-cons in the state. The proposal will appear on the midterm election ballot as Amendment 4

If approved, convicted felons, except murderers and sex offenders, will be able to vote after serving their complete sentences.

"It's not a Republican issue or a Democratic issue, to me, it is an American issue," Nichols said.

This week, Tampa City Council passed a resolution backing the measure.

"What is the point of somebody serving a sentence, paying for their crime and their punishment, and then coming out and not having a basic right," one councilman said.

But the issue isn't that simple to everyone.

"We think it's a horrible idea," said Richard Harrison.

He founded Floridians for a Sensible Voting Rights Policy last year to fight against Amendment 4.

"It doesn't allow anyone, not the governor, not the cabinet, not the clemency board, and nobody else to evaluate on an individualized, case-by-case basis what someone has done, and whether or not they have truly turned their lives around," Harrison said.

He says the amendment still includes plenty of violent criminals and while the current system isn't perfect, Harrison believes this option is a bad approach.

"A first-time, non-violent felon should have an easier path to forgiveness than a career violent criminal," said Harrison.

Right now, convicted felons can apply to have their rights restored by the Clemency Board, made up of the Governor and members of the Cabinet.  But it takes years to get a meeting, and only about 10 percent of applicants get the green light.

Amendment 4 is one of 13 measures that will be on the ballot in November. It needs to be approved by at least 60 percent of voters to pass.