As of Tuesday, approximately 1.4 million former felons who have paid their debts to society will win back the right to vote in Florida.
Florida’s Amendment 4 passed in November by a nearly two-thirds margin, which gives all former felons — other than those convicted of murder and/or sex crimes — the right to vote again. This means those formerly disenfranchised due to the previous law that Amendment 4 overturned will be able to vote in time for the 2020 presidential election.
The law itself has been characterized as a Jim Crow-era policy deliberately meant to prevent black people from voting. Morgan McCloud of The Sentencing Project told Grit Post’s Adam Lynch that many of these laws were enacted following the abolition of slavery as a means of continuing to render African Americans as second-class citizens. Florida’s law, for example, was enacted in 1868 — three years after slavery was abolished.
“Initially … these laws were put in place by politicians who thought they knew what African-Americans would be disproportionately charged for. They would say it out loud in meetings. There was no hiding what they were all about,” McCloud said in November.
Now that Amendment 4 has been officially implemented, up to 21 percent of previously ineligible black voters will now have the right to cast a ballot in 2020. According to HuffPost, this means that, in addition to white, Asian, and Hispanic ex-felons, there could be up to 1.4 million new registered Florida voters in time for the next election
This could fundamentally change the partisan makeup of Florida’s legislature and Congressional delegation, and how the state votes in future presidential elections. In November, for example, Democrat Andrew Gillum lost to Republican Ron DeSantis by just 33,000 votes, and Senator Bill Nelson lost to Republican challenger Rick Scott by just 10,000 votes. Donald Trump won Florida’s electoral votes in 2016 by roughly 100,000 ballots. There were approximately 9.2 million votes cast in 2016, and 8.1 million ballots cast in 2018. If all 1.4 million former felons vote in 2020, they could make up around 12 percent of all ballots.
New Republican Governor Ron DeSantis was nervous about Amendment 4 in a December interview with the Palm Beach Post, telling the paper that he wanted to delay implementation of the law until the legislature passed a bill and he signed it into law. However, the American Civil Liberties Union reminded DeSantis that the language of the constitutional amendment means that the right to vote for former felons is implemented on January 8, 2019, regardless of what the legislature wants to do.
Tom Cahill is a contributor for Grit Post who covers political and economic news. He lives in Bend, Oregon. Send him an email at tom DOT v DOT cahill AT gmail DOT com.