1.4 Million Florida Felons Have Regained The Right To Vote
Black and Democratic voters are most likely to be stripped of their rights.
January 08, 2019 at 5:20 pm
Update (January 8, 2019): Florida’s felons officially have the right to vote.
As of Tuesday, Amendment 4 is in effect, granting 1.4 million adults the right to vote in the Sunshine State, according to NPR.
Perspective voters would have to register and prove they adhered to the terms of their sentencing. Okaloosa County Elections Supervisor Paul Lux is worried about the ambiguity of what could be considered proof.
"Clearly there are things we do not know and things that we cannot know until someone provides us with better definitions,” he said. “Whether it gets done by legislation, whether it gets done by administrative rule or whether it gets done by the court, at some point someone is going to have to clarify the process."
Critics of the amendment, including newly elected Governor Ron DeSantis, wanted to hold off until a bill was signed with “implementing language," but voting rights advocates are ready if there is any trouble.
"If there are any obstacles we might incur, maybe not even tomorrow, maybe weeks down the line, we do have a cadre of attorneys that stand at the ready to make sure that the constitutional right of every American is protected," Desmond Meade of Florida Rights Restoration Coalition told News13.
The ACLU’s Melba Pearson said the organization is ready to sue, too, if there are delays.
“They’re trying to circumvent the will of the voter by putting up all these roadblocks,” she told The Wall Street Journal.
Update (November 6, 2018): Tonight voters in Florida voted in favor of restoring voting riots to 1.2 million convicted felons.
Original: An amendment on Florida’s ballot could restore voting rights for 1.2 million convicted felons.
If passed, Amendment 4 will guarantee automatic voting rights for felons after they complete their sentences, reports The Tampa Bay Times. The only offenders who will be exempt are those who committed murder or sexual crimes. The amendment needs to be approved by 60 percent of voters to become law.
Florida is one of the few states with a ban on felon voting. Black people were five times more likely to be stripped of their voting rights than white voters in 2017. Democrats were three times more likely to be affected by the ban than their Republican counterparts. Four out of the five counties with the most felons tend to vote Democrat.
Darryl Paulson, a retired political scientist, says the figures show a clear bias.
"You just can't explain these numbers based on some mystical theory that there's no racial bias involved," he said.
The disenfranchisement of felons prompted Paulson, a former Republican, to switch parties.
"I can't abide a party that turns its head in another direction and pretends that racism does not exist," Paulson said. "It's one of the most terrible processes this state has ever invented."
Amendment 4 would help people like 75-year-old Walter James, who lost his voting rights last year even though he has not committed a crime since 1992.
"I pay taxes. I'm a U.S. citizen. I've served in the military. I got an honorable discharge," James said. "Why shouldn't my rights be restored?"
Stephen Graham only received probation for a 2011 marijuana charge, but he still can’t vote.
"I got caught with marijuana," Graham said. "I did a year of probation, and this was more than four years ago. I've been clean, but I couldn't vote in the (2016) presidential election."
An additional 1.2 million voters could be a game-changer in a state with notoriously close races. Governor Rick Scott won twice by less than 65,000 votes. Donald Trump’s presidency was guaranteed after he won Florida by only 112,911 votes.
Regaining the right to vote is a complicated process. Felons who lose their rights must wait five years to apply for restoration. After the waiting period, applications have to be personally approved by the governor and three cabinet members. There is a backlog of more than 10,000 requests. The tediousness of the process discourages people from applying. Only 3,000 cases have made it to Scott in eight years.
A Suffolk University poll of 500 voters showed strong support for the amendment, according to News-Press. Support for the change consists of 70 percent with 21 percent opposed and 8 percent undecided.
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