Voters could overhaul Florida’s regime of mass disenfranchisement

Daniel Nichanian

No state disenfranchises as many of its residents as Florida. A staggering 10 percent of its voting-age population is stripped of the right to vote because of a felony conviction, according to a report the Sentencing Project released in 2016. More than 20 percent of Black adults are affected, an unsurprising racial disparity given the Jim Crow roots of the state’s statutes.
Florida is one of four states that disenfranchise people even after they complete a felony sentence. Floridians must wait for at least five years after the completion of their sentence to even apply for their voting rights to be restored. The application process itself takes many more years, and culminates in a hearing in front of the governor and other statewide officials. The board enjoys full discretion over what and how to decide, and over what questions to ask applicants, and it only hears a few hundred cases a year. Under Governor Rick Scott’s tenure, which began in 2011, Florida has restored the voting rights of approximately only 3,000 people.
Amendment 4 would overhaul this system. It would enfranchise an estimated 1.5 million people by automatically restoring people’s voting rights once they complete a felony sentence, except for people convicted of murder or a sexual offense. The amendment needs the support of 60 percent of voters, a threshold that polls suggests is realistic.
But of course a significant share of Floridiansthe very people whose rights are being decidedare barred from participating.
This referendum is the culmination of organizing efforts led by the Florida Rights Restoration Coalition and its president Desmond Meade, who is himself disenfranchised. Mother Jones and the New York Times Magazine recently published in-depth profiles of the coalition’s work.

Update: Floridians adopted Amendment 4, which received the support of 64.5 percent of the vote.