Across the country, more than 6 million Americans are not able to vote because of a past felony conviction. Voting rights advocates equate felony disenfranchisement with other forms of voter suppression like voter ID laws, gerrymandering and voter purges. Like other restrictive voting, lifetime voting bans based on criminal history predominantly affect people of color and has strong ties to America’s past of racist electoral practices.
In Florida, a pivotal swing state, 10 percent of the adult population isn’t allowed to vote because of a non-violent felony on their criminal record. Thanks to a grassroots mobilization effort in 2016, activists have managed to get a Voting Restoration Amendment on a ballot initiative for Florida voters to consider this November. This means that individual Florida voters will decide on whether the state should restore the voting rights for at least 1.5 million ex-offenders. If passed, the amendment will change the disenfranchisement law in the state’s constitution that dates all the way to the post-Civil War era.
Currently, if a Florida citizen who has a felony conviction wanted to restore their ability to vote they must apply for clemency from the governor. Since Republican Governor Rick Scott took office in 2010, only a few thousand ex-offenders have had their voting rights reinstated, and the application process can take years.
Kentucky, Iowa, and Virginia have clemency policies as well.
Despite Florida’s regressive policy, there’s a ton of support from state residents. More than 800,000 people signed the petition for the proposed initiative— higher than the required signature quota of 766,200 names.
More than a million non-violent ex-offenders— those convicted of murder or sexual offenses are not included— would automatically be able to vote if the ballot initiative is a success. The implications for the national power grab is huge: Consider that President Trump only won the state by 112,911 votes in the 2016 national election giving him a whopping 29 electoral votes. And in 2000 the US Supreme Court had to weigh because George W. Bush’s 537 margin of victory was too close to call.
Because of how prominent Florida plays in the electoral college (which Trump won in 2016, even while falling short with the popular vote by more than a couple million votes), the results of the ballot measure in November will have direct implications for who the next president of the United States will be in 2020.
What you can do:
Continuing to punish people who have paid their debt to society by stripping their rights as citizens to vote is both unfair and undemocratic, and has huge implications for who runs the country.
The American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) is fighting all forms of voter suppression, including felony disenfranchisement through their Let People Vote Campaign.
Here’s how you can take action with the ACLU to strengthen American democracy.
And then some:
Ex-offenders in Florida could be given the second chance of a lifetime. After exceeding the necessary amount of votes to get on the ballot initiative, the organizing director for the Florida Rights Restoration Coalition, Sheena Meade, to Twitter celebrate the hard-won victory.
Also, comedian and host of late-night show Full Frontal, Samantha Bee, gave the Florida Rights Restoration Coalition a shout out on social media.
Dan Pfeiffer, co-host of political podcast Pod Save America and former Senior Advisor to President Obama, joined in shining a light on the achievements of the voting rights activists in Florida on Twitter.