Florida Is One Of Four States With A Lifetime Ban On Voting For Convicted Felons. Here's How Amendment 4 Can Change That.
It's time to end the racist lifetime ban
This upcoming November, citizens of Florida will have the opportunity to vote on Amendment 4, also known as the "Voter Restoration Amendment." If the majority of Floridians vote "yes" on Amendment 4, it could restore voting rights to approximately 1.4 million people, who've been denied their right to vote in the state due to past felony convictions.
According to the Floridians for a Fair Democracy organization, "Amendment 4 restores the eligibility to vote to people with past felony convictions who fully complete their entire sentence – including any probation, parole and restitution – before earning back the eligibility to vote. The Amendment specifically excludes individuals who have committed murder or a felony sexual offense."
Florida is one of four states that imposes a lifetime ban on voting for convicted felons. But with Amendment 4 on its ballot, Florida could possibly encourage the other three states — Mississippi, Iowa and Kentucky — to follow suit.
The origins of this voting ban policy is steeped in racism. A report conducted by New York University School of Law’s Brennan Center for Justice, shows how current policy is reminiscent of laws from the Jim Crow era. After Congress passed the Reconstruction Amendments (13th,14th, and 15th), white Floridian lawmakers responded by creating laws that were intended to limit the voting rights of Black residents, enacting “Black codes,” which were used to restrict freed Black folks in both their activities and economic opportunities. Florida drafted Article XIV for its state Constitution. At a glance, this article gave every man who was 21 and older voting rights, no matter their race or religion. But in actuality, Article XIV included additional provisions that were a direct response to being forced to recognize the Reconstruction Act. In particular, “Article XIV, Section 2, imposed a lifetime voting ban for people with felony convictions,” the Brennan Center for Justice report notes.
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In 2011, Gov. Rick Scott (R) further restricted voting rights in Florida, when the laws around clemency were rewritten to increase the amount of time a person must wait before filing to have their voting rights restored.
Florida needs more of its voters' rights policies amended—it's criminal justice system is also in dire need of reform. A study from the Prison Policy Initiative compiled based on data from the 2010 U.S. Census found that Black people made up only 16 percent of Florida's total population, yet represented 46 percent of the state's incarcerated population. How can Florida ever achieve racial and economic equality, if Black Floridians are disproportionately being placed behind bars and having their voting rights stripped away?
Despite being unable to vote herself due to her own previous incarceration, as an organizer with Color of Change PAC, Alecia Tarmel is encouraging her community to get out and vote “yes” on Amendment 4.
“There is no risk, if my involvement can help persuade the vote and help personalize it. I’m doing my part with the hopes of it being rewarded with my rights being restored, along with the 1.4 million others who would benefit from this amendment being passed,” Tarmel told Blavity.
“It would be very liberating for me to have my rights restored. It’s time for me and others in my circumstance to be able to participate in our civic duty,” Tarmel continued.
Andrew Gillum, the Democratic candidate for governor of Florida in the upcoming general election, shares Tarmel's sentiments.
“Everyone should vote yes on Amendment 4. Floridians who have paid their debts deserve a second chance, and they should have a voice in our state’s future. Our current system for rights restoration is a relic of Jim Crow that we should end for good,” Gillum told the Tampa Bay Times during his campaign for Florida's Democratic gubernatorial primary.
A poll conducted by North Star Opinion Research and EMC Research recently found that 74 percent of voters in Florida support the amendment, but who knows how that support will actually manifest once votes are cast on Election Day.
So it’s up to you Florida — make sure that you vote “yes” on Amendment 4 during the general election Tuesday, November 6.