Florida voters just officially moved to jettison a Jim Crow law designed to keep African-Americans from voting by passing Amendment 4, which gives the right to vote back to former felons.
The Amendment 4 ballot initiative, which was on the ballot with other state initiatives affecting offshore oil wells and casino development, polled with comparably-high approval just prior to the November vote. Voters passed the amendment by a margin of 64 to 35 with 71 percent of precincts reporting, according to the New York Times. All former felons, other than felons convicted of murder and sexual offenses, will be able to vote in time for the 2020 presidential election.
BREAKING: @NBCNews projects Florida Amendment 4, Felons Voting, has been approved.
— NBC News (@NBCNews) November 7, 2018
Until today, Florida was one of many Southern states with a lingering racist law designed to keep certain minorities from voting by permanently snatching an ex-felon’s voting rights, long after they have served their time or paid their penalty to society.
Most felony disenfranchisement laws were inserted into state constitutions by segregationists looking to exploit impoverished black residents’ perceived susceptibility to money crimes. The Supreme Court of Mississippi didn’t even try to hide the state’s motivations in its determination that the 1890 state Constitution targeted money crimes on purpose.
The 1896 Mississippi case Ratliff v. Beale describes African-Americans as driven by their “previous condition of servitude and dependence” as a race of “docile people, but careless, landless, and migratory.” Chief Justice Tim Cooper, while ruling on an unrelated poll tax, admitted that the state deliberately discriminated against African-Americans’ perceived characteristics “and the offenses to which its weaker members were prone.”
That these laws still exist are a stain upon the nation, according to critics like Morgan McCloud, communications manager with democratic watchdog organization The Sentencing Project.
“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 told Grit Post. “That’s why a felony disenfranchisement law might cover the beating of one’s wife, but not her murder. They felt they’d get more African-Americans convicted on certain crimes over others.”
Florida took it up a notch by making the disenfranchisement law more of a blanket restriction impacting the vast majority of felons, which is one of the reasons that the state is now known by some critics as “the disenfranchisement capital of America.”
That moniker was wearing away at the patience of Floridians, who finally took a stand to flush the bigoted law, which will restore the vote to 1.5 million former felons who served their time, making the difference in the kind of political races that Florida voters typically decide.
Donald Trump won Florida with only a 112,000-vote difference. The vote that put President Bush in office, over Democratic Candidate Al Gore, was even closer, with only a few thousand votes dictating the outcome. In both elections, Florida was one of the states that proved the deciding vote in those two national elections.