On Tuesday, Florida voters casted their ballots decisively in favor of a measure that restored voting rights to past felons. In what was the largest single enfranchisement event in the United States since women were granted the right to vote a century ago, 1.4 million Floridians who have completed prison time, parole, or restitution will now be allowed to make their voices heard at the ballot box for the first time since before the Civil War.
Groups in favor of this groundbreaking amendment to Florida’s constitution mobilized much stronger than any opposition. Prior to its passage, it polled quite well: a recent Suffolk University/USA Today poll found it garnering 70% support among likely voters, a healthy margin above the 60% it needs in order to pass. In the end, it won about 64%. While not necessarily a landslide, it was certainly higher than the gubernatorial or Senate races, both of which are going to a recount.
Florida’s previous laws regarding felon voting could charitably be described as draconian. Anyone who has been convicted of a crime–even if they finished doing their time decades ago–cannot vote. There was a labyrinthine process to get voting rights back, but it involved a mind-numbing level of paperwork, bureaucratic maneuvering and, finally, an in-person hearing before the Governor himself and his handpicked committee.
Needless to say, this process was designed to be near-impossible to complete. Under incumbent Governor Rick Scott’s administration, the number of re-enfranchised felons has declined precipitously as compared to his predecessors Charlie Crist and Jeb Bush. Scott has declined to take an official position on the ballot initiative–after all, he was running for the U.S. Senate, and to prod the third rail would be politically unwise.
It should be noted that those who have been convicted of the most heinous crimes, most notably sexual assault and murder, will not have their voting rights restored by this amendment. The bulk of those who will benefit from this amendment are nonviolent offenders who are trying to reintegrate into society.
The introduction of 1.4 million voters to the state has the potential to change Florida politics forever. Both parties will now have an expanded bloc to win over in 2020. Florida is a state in which every vote truly does count–Trump won the state by the same margin of ~1 point that Obama did in 2012. And as mentioned before, there’s a recount happening literally as this article is being written. The 2020 Presidential candidate who can best appeal to these “new” voters–who would probably be very interested in candidates’ stances on criminal justice reform–might well win the state’s 29 electoral votes as a result.
Politics aside, though, passing this ballot measure was the right thing to do. Plain and simple. The premise of the justice system is twofold: paying debt to society for infractions upon the social contract, and rehabilitation. The ex-cons that are now re-enfranchised have paid their debt to society–hence their no longer being in prison. They shouldn’t have to bear with them forever this excision of one of the most fundamental rights we Americans enjoy. Florida did the right thing this time around by casting in their lot with 46 other states and granting suffrage to those who have done their time.