Politics

Florida restores voting rights to more than 1 million former felons

Florida voters took a massive step in restoring voting rights to former felons.

Amendment 4 automatically reinstates voting rights for people with felony convictions upon completion of their sentences, including prison, parole and probation. Excluded are those convicted of murder or a felony sexual offense.

The change to the state constitution will affect an estimated 1.5 million Floridians, according to The Sentencing Project and the Brennan Center for Justice.

While Florida voters were just about evenly split in their choices for governor and senator, the ballot initiative was able to garner more than 60 percent of the vote necessary to pass, NBC News projects.

Previously, Florida had one of the most uncompromising systems in the country when it came to voter restoration after criminal convictions: It was one of only three states with a lifetime voting ban for all people with felony histories. The others are Iowa and Kentucky.

The vote had an immediate emotional impact on people who are getting their rights restored.

"It just brings me to tears, just thinking about it," said Angel Sanchez, a former gang member from Miami who served 12 years in Florida state prison for attempted murders and robberies. "Politicians have been playing with this amendment and this issue for almost two decades and couldn't get it done. But when people put politics aside and put people first, you can get over 60 percent of people to agree on something — regardless of partisanship, regardless of their walk of life. I think we've figured something out here in Florida. ... We can do some great things."

"I can't stop crying," said Coral Nichols, who served five years in a Florida state prison for grand theft and fraud. "I feel like this amazing weight has been lifted. I'm just overwhelmed that the state of Florida did the right thing"

"It was a humanity issue. We've restored humanity back to 1.4 million people. We gave them their voice back," added Nichols vice president of Empower to Change Inc., a diversion program for those affected by homelessness, human trafficking and the criminal justice system.

It's hard to say how this may impact Florida and national elections. There is no reliable measure of whether this demographic of new voters will vote for Democrats or Republicans. But Sanchez says, beyond parties, these new voters will wield power.

"This didn't only impact those who couldn't vote. This impacted the communities they came from," he said. "If you look at all these elections that are happening right now, they're all being decided by less than 100,000 votes, maybe less than 200,000. ... If only 10 percent of the individuals re-enfranchised today turn out to vote, these elections could be impacted."

— CNBC's Jaden Urbi contributed to this story.

WATCH: Meet the former felons who fought to regain their right to vote

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