Florida Passes Amendment Restoring Voting Rights to 1.5 Million Felons

Supporters of Amendment 4 celebrate its passage at an election night watch party in Orlando Florida / CJ Ciaramella  Reason
Supporters of Amendment 4 celebrate its passage at an election night watch party in Orlando Florida / CJ Ciaramella Reason

07 November, 2018

Voters in the USA state of Florida have approved Amendment 4, restoring voting rights to people in the state who have been convicted of felonies in the past.

At least 60 percent of voters had to approve it for Amendment 4 to become law. For years, the vast majority of disenfranchised felons were non-violent offenders who served their sentences, but were still unable to vote.

Floridians voted on Tuesday to pass Amendment 4, which restores the right to vote for convicted felons who have already finished serving their full sentence and who were not convicted of either murder or sexual crimes.

The amendment does have its problems. While some opponents of the amendment are still in favor of speeding up the process, they claim that Amendment 4 will allow former felons to regain their voting rights automatically, without any process.

When Gov. Rick Scott took office in 2011, he and the Cabinet reversed years of progress - imposing a minimum five-year wait on anyone seeking clemency and requiring them to submit to an arduous, often futile process.

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Previously, Florida was one of just four states in the USA that automatically and permanently revoked voting rights from anyone who had been convicted of a felony-level crime. If another million people are added to the voter rolls, it could affect the balance of power in a state largely controlled by Republicans on the state level.

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Neil Volz, political director of the Florida Rights Restoration Coalition, the group behind the measure, said he and Desmond Meade, the group's chair, were watching the returns in a hotel room in Orlando together and broke into tears when it was announced the amendment passed.

Shortly after Amendment 4 passed, Trump-aligned Republican Ron DeSantis narrowly defeated progressive Democrat Andrew Gillum in the race for Florida governor.

Essentially, based on research at Ballotpedia.org, which cites both supporters and opposition of the amendment, Florida Amendment 3 is created to take the legislation of gambling out of hands of legislators and put it into the hands of the citizens.

While many states make it hard for felons to regain their voting rights, according to Oliver, the worst state of all "in this and arguably everything else is Florida".

Felon disenfranchisement is a legacy of the period after the Civil War, as states sought to prevent African Americans from voting.

"The constitutional amendment the voters have now approved is not the end of this saga; it is more like the end of the beginning", Simon said.

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