Even as Florida divided closely between Democratic and Republican candidates in Tuesday’s key Senate and gubernatorial races, voters overwhelmingly supported Amendment 4, a constitutional amendment that will automatically restore voting rights to most rehabilitated felons. The ballot measure easily cleared the 60 percent threshold necessary for passage, meaning 1.5 million Floridians will soon regain the right to vote.
Florida currently has the most draconian felon disenfranchisement law in the country: Former offenders do not regain their civil rights unless they receive an individual grant of clemency from the governor. A remnant of Jim Crow, this rule ensures that about 1 in 5 black would-be voters in Florida cannot legally cast a ballot. Republican Gov. Rick Scott has favored white Republicans who appeal for clemency while rejecting the vast majority of applications. He also made clemency applications more onerous and expensive.
Voting rights advocates furious with Scott’s capricious abuse of power mounted a campaign to liberalize felon disenfranchisement rules through a constitutional amendment. Amendment 4 has consistently polled well, drawing broad bipartisan support. Hundreds of thousands of Floridians who voted for Republican gubernatorial candidate Ron DeSantis, a Donald Trump acolyte, apparently split their ticket, endorsing Amendment 4 as well. Although Republican lawmakers consistently attempt to suppress voting rights, expansion of the franchise appears to be popular across party lines.
A disproportionate number of Floridians who will obtain the right to vote are racial minorities. It is not clear, however, whether Amendment 4 will swing the state left in future elections. Party affiliation of former felons is fairly mixed, and their participation in elections is, historically, quite low. Florida voters who benefit from Amendment 4 will have an opportunity to reverse this trend in 2020. And even if DeSantis ultimately triumphs, he will not have Scott’s power to deprive his constituents of their constitutional rights.
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