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Voting rights ballot initiative gets green light from Supreme Court

The Florida Supreme Court ruled unanimously on Thursday that a proposed constitutional amendment to restore the voting rights of convicted felons can appear on the 2018 ballot.

The court's decision, written by Justice Fred Lewis, is an important legal victory for voting rights advocates, who are collecting signatures from around the state to place the question before voters next year.

"First, the ballot title and summary clearly and unambiguously inform the voters of the chief purpose of the proposed amendment," Lewis wrote. "Read together, the title and summary would reasonably lead voters to understand that the chief purpose of the amendment is to automatically restore voting rights to felony offenders, except those convicted of murder or felony sexual offenses, upon completion of all terms of their sentence. Second, the ballot title and summary also do not mislead voters with regard to the actual content of the proposed amendment. Rather, together they recite the language of the amendment almost in full."

Florida has an estimated 1.5 million felons who have been stripped of their voting rights, more than any other state.

Attorney General Pam Bondi's office did not file a brief with the court on the ballot title and summary. The proposed amendment would undo a policy change enacted by Bondi, Gov. Rick Scott and other Cabinet members in 2011 that requires most convicted felons to wait for five years after leaving prison before they can file a clemency petition, seeking to regain the right to vote. Scott, a Republican who's considered a heavy favorite to run for the U.S. Senate in 2018, told the Times/Herald in 2016 he supports the existing restrictions.