It has been called the biggest restoration of voting rights in decades: Yesterday Florida voters approved a ballot measure to restore the vote to 1.4 million people convicted of felonies, a move that could have significant repercussions in the swing state.
Florida’s Amendment 4 was approved 64 to 35 percent. It will re-enfranchise people who were convicted of felonies but have completed their sentences, including prison, parole and probation. It does not apply to people convicted of murder, sex crimes or violent offenses.
The state’s current voting ban dates back to the Reconstruction era and disproportionately affects African-Americans. More than 20 percent of otherwise eligible black voters in Florida are unable to vote because of it. That’s about 6 percent of the state’s total voting-age population, according to 2016 estimates by the Sentencing Project.
The group Floridians for a Fair Democracy gathered more than 1.1 million signatures on a petition to put Amendment 4 on the ballot. The initiative drew bipartisan support, from the American Civil Liberties Union to the Koch brothers-funded Freedom Partners. “We are fighting just as hard for that person that wishes he could vote for Donald Trump as that person who wanted to vote for Barack Obama or Hillary Clinton,” said Desmond Meade, leader of the Florida Rights Restoration Coalition, to Mother Jones last August. “We don’t care about how a person may vote. What we care about is that they have the ability to vote. That is our compass.”
Several states currently prevent convicted felons from voting, but only three states — Florida, Kentucky and Iowa — withhold the right after sentences have been completed. Before yesterday, the only way to regain voter rights was by being granted clemency by the governor. Previous Florida Gov. Charlie Crist re-enfranchised 40,000 ex-felons during his time in office.
But in 2011, current Florida Gov. Rick Scott changed the process to an application that required a five-to-seven-year wait. According to the Orlando Sentinel, the average applicant waited ten years just to get a response to his or her application, and the waiting list swelled to 10,000 people.
As a result, Florida had disenfranchised more people than any other state, Vox noted.
Florida’s current Senate race between Scott and Democratic incumbent Bill Nelson may be headed for an automatic recount, with Scott leading Nelson by only 30,000 votes as of Wednesday night. On Tuesday, Andrew Gillum came up short in his bid to become the state’s first African-American governor — by 50,879 votes, or about .06 percent of the total.
In the 2016 presidential election, Donald Trump won the state over Hillary Clinton by 112,911 votes, or 1.2 percent of the total.