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Formerly convicted Florida residents sound off on voter disenfranchisement

On Nov. 6, more than six million Americans will be unable to vote because of a felony conviction on their records. More than a quarter of them live in Florida, where 1.6 million people—about ten percent of the state’s voting-age population—have been convicted of a felony. Florida is one of only three states that permanently bars people with felony convictions from voting. But all that may change this November, when Floridians will vote on Amendment 4, a ballot measure that would automatically restore voting rights to all felony offenders who have completed their sentences—except those convicted of murder or a sexual offense.

Four Florida residents spoke with the NewsHour Weekend’s Ivette Feliciano about voting rights for felony offenders and how Florida’s current policy has affected them. Hear from them below and watch NewsHour Weekend tonight for the full report.

Brett Ramsden, 36, justice initiatives director, Christian Coalition of Florida

Ramsden, who struggled with drug addiction as a young adult and stole to support the habit, received his first of nine felony convictions in 2003 at age 21. He is now sober and lives with his wife and one-year-old daughter in Sarasota, Florida.

Coral Nichols, 40, vice president, Empowered to Change

Nichols, who experienced emotional and physical abuse as a child, was convicted of embezzlement in 2005 and spent more than four years inside Lowell Annex and Hillsborough Correctional Institutions. She was released in 2009 and is now in her final year of probation. Nichols co-founded Empowered to Change, a social work and counseling organization based in Seminole, Florida, in 2014.

Demetrius Jifunza, 41, paralegal

At age 17, Jifunza was sentenced to almost four years in prison and two years of probation for armed robbery. At 41, he’s now married with three children and works as a paralegal in Sarasota, Florida. He’s also a pastor at Mt. Olive Christian Methodist Episcopal Church and is working on his master’s degree in clinical mental health counseling at Argosy University.

Neil Volz, 48, political director, Florida Rights Restoration Coalition

Volz, a former Republican political staffer and lobbyist, pleaded guilty in 2006 to conspiracy in a congressional bribery case. He is now political director of the Florida Rights Restoration Coalition, which advocates for and consists of people with felony convictions who refer to themselves as “returning citizens.”

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