If a convict has served their prison sentence, they should have their rights as a citizen restored, including the right to vote: That’s the argument presented by Amendment 4 on the 2018 ballot in Florida.
And on November 6, voters in the pivotal swing state will decide whether or not former felons will once again be able to cast a ballot.
Amendment 4 would, if approved by 60 percent of Florida voters, amend the state’s constitution by restoring voting rights to approximately 1.6 million residents who have been convicted of a felony and served out the length of their sentence — including parole and probation– according to the Miami Herald. The ballot question would not restore the voting rights of anyone convicted of murder or a felony sexual offense.
Even if the amendment passes, the state legislature must still enact legislation in order to make it official.
Currently, state law stipulates that convicted felons must wait five years after finishing their sentences to appeal for the restoration of their civil rights to the state clemency board (which includes the governor, the attorney general, the state’s chief financial officer, and the commissioner of agriculture and consumer services), which only meets once per quarter. The Herald reports that the entire process can take up to a decade for some convicted felons, discouraging many from initiating the process.
In order to make it onto the statewide ballot, a Florida ballot question must gain 766,200 signatures. Amendment 4 surpassed that threshold by nearly 100,000 signatures, obtaining a total of 842,796 signatures, according to a state government website.
David Hogg — one of the survivors of the Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School shooting in Parkland — tweeted that if Amendment 4 passed, it would potentially restore the rights of 21 percent of otherwise ineligible African American voters in Florida.
If you live in Florida there are several super important amendments on the ballot one of which is #Amendment4 that restores voting rights for non-violent convicts.
This could give the 21% of otherwise eligble African-Americans in FL the right to vote. https://t.co/huGxgqHjy1
— David Hogg (@davidhogg111) October 6, 2018
Even if the amendment was approved by 60 percent of voters and the legislature approved it, it wouldn’t go into effect until at least 2019, as the Florida legislature doesn’t convene until January. However, it could have major potential implications for the 2020 election. For example, Donald Trump only defeated Hillary Clinton in Florida by approximately 113,000 votes.
If 1.6 million former felons — including 21 percent of currently ineligible African Americans — have their voting rights restored, it could potentially shift the partisan makeup of Florida’s government toward Democrats for decades to come.
Jake Shepherd is a freelance writer from Cleveland, Ohio. He enjoys poring through financial disclosure statements, spirited debate, and good scotch. He remains eternally optimistic about the Browns. Email him at jake.d.shepherd.21 (at) hotmail (dot) com.