Voting in America is broken. The U.S. falls behind most other developed nations when it comes to voter participation rates, yet it spend the most money on elections. Regressive voting policies like gerrymandering, ID laws and blocking early voting are major fails within the American electoral system and ultimately lead to low voter turnout.
One of the most serious and immediate forms of voter suppression that keeps millions of people away from the polls are voting bans for people with prior felony convictions, known as felony disenfranchisement. There's no federal policy for ex-offender disenfranchisement, which means states are able to make their own rules when it comes to keeping ex-offenders from ever casting a ballot.
The state of Florida is a key swing state in national elections, and has become a battleground for voter rights and criminal justice reform. It is one of three states that bans ex-offenders with felony convictions from voting for life. Currently, 1.5 million people, mostly people of color, are denied the right to vote in the state due to having a non-violent felony offense on their records, which means that at least 10 percent of the state's adult population isn't eligible to have voice in elections. This is a huge deal given that the state swung right in the 2016 presidential election on just 112, 911 votes. The issue has immediate racial and criminal justice implications as one-in-13 black Americans has lost the right to vote as a result.
That's why VICE Impact launched the Vote Now campaign to shed light on what's working and what's not with the electoral system and to support of the American Civil Liberties Union's (ACLU) Let People Vote effort, which aims to give people who have have served their time the right to vote and better reintegrate into society.
The ACLU is encouraging people to take action through the People Power initiative, which targets Florida and other other states with archaic voter suppression laws tied to non-violent felony convictions. Right now they're working with local groups like Floridians for a Fair Democracy to collect over 700,000 signatures — the number needed to get this issue on the ballot for 2018 — from registered Florida voters by December 31, 2017.
And the issue isn't just limited to Florida. A number of other states are debating ex-offender voting rights and other opportunities to expand participation in the democratic process.