Today, over a million people are eligible to register to vote in Florida after voters passed Florida Amendment 4 in the November midterms, allowing ex-felons the right to vote.
In the 2018 midterms, Florida voters overwhelmingly voted in favor of Amendment 4, which re-instated voting rights to convicted felons as long as they have completed their sentence and were not convicted of murder or felony sex offenses. More than a million people are able to register and vote, which is about 9.2% of the voting age population in Florida.
Of the nearly 1.5 million convicted felons in Florida, black people will disproportionately benefit from the new amendment; 17.9% of the black voting age population is now eligible to vote. Previously, about 418,000 black Floridians finished their sentences but were barred from voting because of Florida’s voting rules and the disproportionately high arrests and incarceration black people face.
While most states have rules regarding the voting rights of ex-felons, Florida has the highest number of disenfranchised citizens because of its strict voting laws. Before this amendment, Florida, Iowa, and Kentucky had the nation’s most restrictive voting regulations, barring all convicted felons from voting even after serving their full sentences and parole. Most states have laws restricting voting rights for convicted felons, such as laws barring people from voting while in prison or until their parole is completed. Only Maine and Vermont allow people to vote regardless of their criminal records, even while incarcerated.
The Supreme Court has upheld in the past the disenfranchisement of convicted felons. The 14th Amendment to the US Constitution allows the government to disenfranchise citizens for “participation in rebellion or other crime.”
The reinstatement of voting rights for convicted felons in Florida is part of a larger conversation about voting rights across the nation. Democrats announced in November after the 2018 midterm election that sweeping voting reform act will be one of their main priorities. The Democrats believe the bill will increase public trust in the government and strengthen democratic institutions. The legislation aims to reform redistricting, create automatic voter registration, revive the Voting Rights Act, overturn the Citizen’s United ruling, and expand the conflict of interests ban to include presidents. Representative Sarbanes commented that, “The path back to having the public trust government and politics is a long one, but we have to start someplace.”
Media Resources: Vox 1/8/19; Feminist Newswire 11/14/18