Voting rights advocates and formerly incarcerated individuals are celebrating the choice by Floridians to grant the state’s non-violent felon population the ability to participate in future elections. With 64 percent of its residents voting in favor on Tuesday, November 6, Florida agreed to the passage of Amendment 4, which could put pressure on candidates to answer to over one million additional voters going forth.
NPR reported that more than 1.5 million adults in the Sunshine State are currently outlawed from casting a ballot because they have a felony charge on their records. That number translates to 9.2 percent of all voting-age citizens across its 67 counties. Among those most disenfranchised under the law have been African-Americans, who during each election cycle face the disadvantage of heading to the polls short 20 percent of their demographic due to felony convictions.
As Vox pointed out in a report on the impact of Amendment 4, Florida is one of only three states, along with Iowa and Kentucky, that even maintains a voting ban on felons who’ve completed their sentences. It has been that way since Rick Scott took office and reversed course on previous governor Charlie Crist’s leniency on the matter. During his time at the helm, Crist restored the rights of 150,000 felons to vote. With Gov. Scott establishing a rigorous application process that typically takes upwards of five years to gain restoration through, approximately 3,000 of 30,000 felons have seen their rights restored.
BREAKING: Florida passes #Amendment4, which will restore voting rights to 1.4M people who were formerly incarcerated. Learn more about how states are working to restore voting rights: https://t.co/UXljGErPhS pic.twitter.com/1CiPLl5NAg— Vera Institute (@verainstitute) November 7, 2018
It wasn’t until February of this year that a federal judge posed a challenge to Gov. Scott by determining that the procedure he instituted was unconstitutional.
The ruling did more than put his leadership into question, as it also mobilized voting rights organizers to act. Before long, a group called Floridians for a Fair Democracy was able to collect 1.1 million signatures in order to ensure that Amendment 4 would be on the November ballot. The measure would then receive endorsements from opposite ends of the political spectrum, with both the American Civil Liberties Union and the conservative Koch brothers-funded Freedom Partners showing their support.
Exempt from the ability to benefit from applications for restoration of the right to vote, under Amendment 4, will be certain kinds of extreme offenders, including those with murder and felony sex crime convictions.
The results of the 2018 midterm election results on the bill have shown that such exemptions, coupled with a growing call for criminal justice reform, could make for a perfect bipartisan storm in spite of the divided politics of the day. The results, which come in an election year that has seen Democrats running neck and neck with Republicans in the state, might also be indicative of the potential for the political map to change, as many analysts believe most felons who go through with the process of restoration will be putting their numbers on the side of the blue party.