Florida residents who have previously been convicted of a felony face some of the harshest voting laws in the United States. As it stands, 1.7 million people are unable to vote for any elected official, even after completing their sentences. While most states only prevent the currently incarcerated from voting, more than 10.4 percent of Florida’s voting-age residents couldn’t vote in 2016 due to a prior felony.
The Voting Restoration Amendment, also knows as Amendment 4, however, presents a possible second chance for those oppressed by harsh voting laws. With the exception of people convicted of murder or felony sex crimes, the proposed state constitutional amendment would grant voting rights for anyone who has completed “all terms of sentence including parole or probation,” according to an op-ed from attorney Reggie Garcia for the Miami Herald. “That means they would have completed house arrest, jail and prison sentences and community service; paid restitution, court costs and fees; and fulfilled any other special conditions of parole or probation,” Garcia writes.
Desmond Meade, who was convicted of a felony and now serves as president of the Florida Rights Restoration Coalition, told Vox, “At the end of the day, when a debt is paid, it’s paid. We all want to be forgiven.”
As Vox explains, if Amendment 4 passes on November 6, “it will amount to the most significant expansion of voting rights in America in decades—since the women’s suffrage movement and federal Voting Rights Act of 1965.”
This shift would have the largest impact on the Black community, which, according to The Sentencing Project, faces a disproportionate number of felony convictions: “Black Americans of voting age are more than four times more likely to lose their voting rights than the rest of the adult population, with one of every 13 Black adults disenfranchised nationally.” Per The Sentencing Project, 21 percent of the Black people in Florida currently do not have the right to vote.
Public support for Amendment 4 is strong so far. University of North Florida released poll results on Monday (October 15) that put support for the proposal at 71 percent, which far exceeds the 60 percent needed for the measure to pass.
Susanne Manning of the Florida Rights Restoration Coalition told Vox that Amendment 4 “is going to affect people who have been waiting forever. People who have done their time. People who have finished their sentence, done their probation, paid their court costs, paid their fines, paid their restitution—and have still been waiting.”