Ushering in one of the largest expansions of suffrage in the United States since the passage of the 1965 Voting Rights Act, Florida voters overwhelmingly passed Amendment 4, with the amendment prevailing 64-36 with 92 percent of votes counted, striking a massive blow against a Jim Crow-era policy that disenfranchises 1.5 million fellow citizens due to felony convictions.
As many states did in the wake of the Civil War, Florida banned those with felony convictions from voting as an explicitly racist measure to prevent black citizens from voting, with one leading proponent boasting in 1868 that the policy had “kept Florida from becoming [n-word]ized.’” despite nearly half of its population being African-American at the time. According to the Sentencing Project, this lifetime ban has disenfranchised one in 10 Floridians, the highest proportion of any state in the country. And because of the measure’s discriminatory impact, Florida bars one in five black adults from voting, which is five times the rate of the rest of the population.
Republicans have vigorously fought efforts to loosen this restriction, and GOP Gov. Rick Scott even made felony disenfranchisement far more draconian when he took office in 2011 by almost entirely ending the practice of granting clemency to restore voting rights to specific individuals. This ballot measure will sidestep the opposition of GOP elected officials, who have tried to preserve it because they think it will turn Florida into a blue state, although the impact is not as clear as it would seem.
Regardless of any partisan considerations, ending this voting restriction is long overdue, and no democracy should deny the right to vote to a tenth of its citizens. There are certain categories of citizens whose voting rights would not be restored by the amendment, including those in prison or on parole or probation, and those who have committed murder or sexual offenses. But it will massively curtail a Jim Crow policy that has prevented 1.5 million Americans from exercising one of their most sacred constitutional rights.
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