>> Leonard Newton is permanently barred from voting under Florida state law because he is a convicted felon. Newton, in and out of jail for much of his life, lost the right to vote before he was old enough to cast a ballot.>> Well, at the age of 16, I committed a crime.
I broke into my high school and stole a jacket and some shoes and some candy. And they sent me to prison, they lost my rights. And I didn't understand what the loss of rights meant because I'd never voted.>> Now 45 years old, Newton is one of an estimated 1.5 million disenfranchised ex-convicts in Florida.
Florida is the largest of only four remaining states in the nation that strip all former felons of voting rights unless they successfully appeal to have their rights restored. And Florida could once again play a deciding role in the presidential race. Reuters correspondent, Leticia Stine, is in the state's capital, Tallahassee.
>> As many as one in four African-Americans in Florida cannot vote as a result of this. And something like 10% of the state's voting age population is disenfranchised due to a past felony. There are not many opportunities for people in Florida with felony records to get their voting rights back.
And it's gotten even harder in recent years under the current Republican administration. In 2011, Republican Governor Rick Scott, Attorney General Pam Bondi, and other members of the cabinet imposed some new, very stringent restrictions on the process by which people with felony records can apply to have their civil rights restored.
They have now to wait at least five to seven years before they can even apply.>> The effects fall exceptionally heavy on black Floridians, and African Americans tend to vote Democratic. In the 2000 election, Florida decided the presidential election by just 537 votes. The latest data shows roughly 60,000 felons completed their sentences last year, standard for Florida.
Those individuals will not be able to cast ballots in November.