Vote Restored to up to 1.5 Million with Felony Convictions in Florida

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Desmond Meade and David Ayala, both of whom have completed felony conviction requirements, pose outside the Orange County Supervisor of Elections office after registering to vote on Tuesday
Source: Steven Lemongello and Skyler Swisher, “Amendment 4: ‘A Day of Celebration’ in Florida as 1.4 Million Ex-Felons Have Voting Rights Restored,” orlandosentinel.com, Jan. 8, 2019
 

On Tuesday, Jan. 8, 2019, Amendment 4 to Florida’s constitution went into effect, restoring the vote to up to 1.5 million people convicted of felonies, which represents more than 17.9% of potential black voters in Florida.

In Nov. 2018, 65% of Florida voters approved the felon voting amendment, amounting to more than five million Florida residents, which is more votes than any candidate on the ballot received. The amendment states that after felons have completed of all terms of the sentence including parole or probation, restoration of voting privileges is automatic. Once eligible, former felons may register to vote. Those with felony murder or sex crime convictions are not eligible for voting restoration.

Before Amendment 4, Florida banned people from voting even after all sentencing requirements were completed. Florida had the country’s largest disenfranchised population–1,686,318 people, or 10.43% of its potential voting population. Republican Governor Rick Scott, who served from Jan. 4, 2011 to Jan. 7, 2019, had instituted an application review process to work around the law that could take up to seven years and did not guarantee voting restoration. As of Oct. 2018, only 3,005 applicants of 30,000 were re-enfranchised under Governor Scott’s system.

Clarence Office, a liaison for the Department of Veterans Affairs who completed the requirements of his felony drug conviction, registered to vote on Tuesday, stating, “It was an injustice not to be able to vote… I’m a totally different person now — just like a lot of other people who have come to register.” Office brought his friend, Jerry Armstrong, who also completed his felony conviction sentence requirements and registered to vote for the first time at the age of 45. Armstrong stated, “I never voted a day in my life. I feel like I am a United States citizen.”

David Ayala, who lost his vote at age 16 with a felony drug conviction, registered to vote on Tuesday, stating, “I lost my right to vote before I was even eligible to vote, and before I knew how important voting is.” He added that not being able to vote for his wife, Aramis Ayala, the state’s first African-American state attorney elected in Nov. 2016, “was a dark moment, not being able to participate in her moment of history… I knocked on doors, made calls, but wasn’t able to do the most important thing you can do.” His wife added, “I believe in a wider democracy. When a debt is paid, a debt is paid.”

Ron DeSantis, Florida’s new governor who was also elected in Nov. 2018, stated in Dec. 2018 that the amendment should not go into effect until “implementing language” is approved by the Legislature and signed by DeSantis, which would have pushed voter registration until at least the Mar. 5, 2019 legislative session. DeSantis stated, “It’s not delaying it–the people spoke on it. But I think it’s got to be implemented the way that the people intended. And I don’t think they wanted to see any sex offenders fall through the cracks.”

It remains to be seen how many newly eligible people will register to vote. Daniel A. Smith, Chairman of the Political Science Department at the University of Florida, stated, “I’m kind of skeptical that we’re going to see this big jump in terms of new registrations. I think it’s going to be a slow trickle, and it’s probably going to be realized over the next several years.” Individual counties reported spikes in voter registration on Tuesday. 208 people registered in Hillsborough County, for example, a county that registered 612 people total last year.

10 states permanently ban some ex-felons from voting, including Florida, which still bans murderers and sex crime perpetrators from voting even after all prison, probation, parole, and fines.

Discussion Questions
1. Should people who have completed their felony sentences (including probation, parole, and fines) be allowed to vote? Why or why not? What are the potential benefits or disadvantages of re-enfranchisement?

2. Does Florida’s re-enfranchisement of felons benefit Republicans or Democrats more? How? Should that factor matter when deciding whether to to re-enfranchise former felons?

3. Are there any crimes for which someone should never have their vote restored, even if that person completes all of the punishment for their crime? If so, which crimes and why? If not, why not?

Sources:

Chauncey Alcorn, “Ex-Felons in Florida Enjoy New Freedom: Registering to Vote,” nbcnews.com, Jan. 8, 2019

George Bennett, “Exclusive: DeSantis to Act Quickly on Water, Supreme Court, Broward Sheriff,” palmbeachpost.com, Dec. 12, 2018

Max Greenwood, “Restoration of Voting Rights by Felons Marks Shift in Florida,” thehill.com, Jan. 8, 2019

Nada Hassanein, “‘I’m a Part of Society’: Florida Ex-Felons Register to Vote after Regaining Rights,” tallahassee.com, Jan. 8, 2019

Steven Lemongello and Skyler Swisher, “Amendment 4: ‘A Day of Celebration’ in Florida as 1.4 Million Ex-Felons Have Voting Rights Restored,” orlandosentinel.com, Jan. 8, 2019

German Lopez, “Ex-Felons Can Now Sign up to Vote in Florida,” vox.com, Jan. 8, 2019

Patricia Mazzei, “Florida Felons Once Denied Rights Begin Registering to Vote,” nytimes.com, Jan. 8, 2019

Lori Rozsa, “Florida Ex-Felons Reclaim Their Voting Rights, Ready to Become ‘Like Every Other American Citizen,'” washingtonpost.com, Jan. 8, 2019

Langston Taylor, “On First Day of Amendment 4, Felons in Tampa Bay Cause Spike in Voter Registrations,” tampabay.com, Jan. 8, 2019

Martin Vassolo, “‘I Became Somebody’: Former Felons Register to Vote in Florida through Amendment 4,” miamiherald.com, Jan. 8, 2019