Happy Friday! Happy February! Happy Black History Month! To start this month off, I wanted to highlight an important piece of legislation that passed in Florida during this last election season. On the ballot, this past November, Amendment 4 petitioned to restore the voting rights of more than 1 million felons in the state of Florida, this totals about 9.2 percent of Florida’s voting population. The amount of people that have benefited from having their voting rights restored makes this one of the largest enfranchisement campaigns in the history of our country. Thankfully, it passed overwhelmingly in the state with 64% of Florida voters voting yes. As a registered voter in the state of Florida I was one of them.
Felony disenfranchisement overwhelmingly affects African-Americans with 2.2million African-Americans unable to vote. The majority of these being men who are banned from voting at 4 times the rate than all the other racial groups combined. When slavery ended, and slaves got the right to vote, numerous tactics and laws were put in place to prevent them from voting. From Jim Crow to laws requiring that you own property. Unfortunately, many of these laws have taken new forms and are still preventing African-Americans from voting. The 14thAmendment gave African-Americans civil liberties and protection under the law, but it explicitly states that the right to vote is protected “except for the participation of rebellion or other crime.” Many critics argue that if you commit a crime you should lose your right vote, but amendment 4 only reinstates voting rights for those who completed all their sentencing and it does not cover felons who commit murder and sexual offenses.
Florida had one of the harshest disenfranchisement policies in the country. It was one of four states where the state constitution permanently denies the right to vote of those convicted of felonies and only grants clemency from rules set by the Governor’s office. In 2011, Governor Rick Scott issued new clemency rules. Fast forward 4 years to the end of 2015 and the voting rights of only 2,000 Floridians had been reinstated, but 20,000 applications had been received. These rules were so strict that they were ruled unconstitutional for violating the rights of those who were trying to gain clemency.
It seems like a small thing, the right to vote. But the right to vote is the right to make your voice heard. By taking this right way you are silencing someone’s ability to take part in the laws that govern them. Once Amendment 4 was passed, the newly appointed Republican governor said that the state legislature had to pass a bill to allow it to take effect. Florida’s state legislature is Republican as well and they do not want the right to vote to be reinstated because African-Americans tend to vote Democrat. And everyone will be looking towards the 2020 election. It’s awful that we use the lives and rights of citizens in political games.
This decision is the single largest granting of voting rights since women got the right to vote in 1920. Disenfranchised felons were able to register to vote on January 8th. Only time will tell if they will actually be able to exercise this right. But the majority of the state has spoken, and our elected officials need to listen.