Voting Rights

Florida Approves Ballot Amendment to Restore Voting Rights of 1.4 Million People With Felony Records

Amendment 4 will reverse Florida's more than 100-year-old law disenfranchising felons, a vestige of the state's racist "Black Codes."


Supporters of Amendment 4 celebrate its passage at an election night watch party in Orlando, Florida // CJ Ciaramella / Reason

ORLANDO, Fla. — Florida voters approved a ballot measure Tuesday night that will restore voting rights to an estimated 1.4 million people with felony records in the critical swing state.

Amendment 4 passed by 64 percent and would re-enfranchise all felons in the state, save those convicted of murder or sex offenses. The amendment was supported by progressive groups, civil liberty organizations, conservative groups aligned with the Koch brothers, and a bevy of celebrities. It also received a groundswell of grassroots support from ex-offenders and their families, who say those who paid their debt to society should be returned to full citizenship.

"We have returned!" Desmond Meade, president of Florida Rights Restoration Coalition, told a room of overjoyed supporters, some of them teary-eyed, at an election night watch party in Orlando. Drake's "Started From The Bottom" blared over the sound system.

"This was a campaign about inclusion," Meade continued. "Those numbers represented what happens when we come together along the lines of humanity and reach each other where we're at. That's what happens when we're able to transcend partisan politics and bickering, when we're able to transence racial anxieties and discourse, when we're able to come together as God's children."

Florida was one of four states that impose lifetime bans on voting for people with felony records. The two remaining states are Iowa and Kentucky. Virginia has a similar provision, but the last two governors have used their executive powers to restore voting rights of those affected.

Thirty-three states have various laws disenfranchising felony offenders and those under law enforcement supervision, impacting an estimated 6.1 million potential voters, according to a 2016 Sentencing Project report.

Former offenders in Florida could petition the governor for clemency to have their voting rights restored, but in 2011 then-governor Rick Scott, who is running for the U.S. Senate this year, rewrote the rules, making Florida the toughest state in the U.S. for felons to regain their voting rights.

"Ultimately, we are citizens, we are in the community, we do want to have a say—I know I do—and this is a great way to have that opportunity," says Bryan Russi, 42, of Orlando, an ex-felon and current real estate agent. "It's not Republican or Democrat, it's a human thing. Everyone has people who have been affected."

Kim Lawrance, an activist whose 18-year-old daughter is currently incarcerated, would like to see her child be able to vote one day. "They should be able to come home and get reintegrated into society," Lawrance says. "When your time is done, it's done."

One estimate says that 10 percent of all Floridians who are otherwise eligible to vote have been disenfranchised by the law.

Felon disenfranchisement also disproportionately affects black residents. One out of every 13 African-Americans in the U.S. has lost their voting rights due to felony disenfranchisement laws, compared to one in every 56 non-black voters, the Sentencing Project report said.

Florida's felony disenfranchisement laws were, like those in many other states, a vestige of the its racist 19th century "Black Codes," which attempted to systematically criminalize freed slaves following the Civil War, and then bar them from voting.

In a statement, ACLU of Florida Executive Director Howard Simon celebrated what he called "one of the largest expansions of the franchise in our nation's history" but warned that the fight was not over.

Shortly after Amendment 4 passed, Trump-aligned Republican Ron DeSantis narrowly defeated progressive Democrat Andrew Gillum in the race for Florida governor.

"The constitutional amendment the voters have now approved is not the end of this saga; it is more like the end of the beginning," Simon said. "In the days and weeks ahead we will seek to work with newly elected Governor to ensure that Amendment 4 is implemented as intended by the Floridians who placed it on the ballot and voted to approve it—without delay and without imposing more burdens on the process to register to vote."

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    1. Indeed

      1. Yeah, the Ds are gonna have to really screw the pooch with their nominee to not beat Trump in two years.

    2. I live in Indiana where felons have the right to vote as long as they are not incarcerated. Indiana is definitely a red state, so your assumption that all felons are Dems is completely false.

      1. Yeah, but Indiana was 90% red. Felons voting there won’t swing any elections.
        Florida was 50-50. Now it’s a blue state.

  2. That’s what happens when we’re able to transcend partisan politics and bickering, when we’re able to transence racial anxieties and discourse, when we’re able to come together as God’s children.

    My response: Fuck damnation, man! Fuck redemption! We are God’s unwanted children? So be it! Our fathers were our models for God. If our fathers bailed, what does that tell you about God? You have to consider the possibility that God does not like you. He never wanted you. In all probability, he hates you. This is not the worst thing that can happen.

    1. Hey, I watched Fight club yesterday too.

  3. I voted against it.
    Now, hear me out, libertarian dogmatists.
    I was prepared to vote for it, but the wording concerned me. It exempted ONLY those convicted of “murder or sexual offenses” – so, based on that provision, many types of violent crimes, theft, fraud, etc would be included in those allowed return of voting rights.
    I was iffy about things like fraud in the first place, but aggravated assault, armed robbery, etc – deal breaker

    1. Should we start preventing all bad people from voting?

      1. No, just the violent felons. You know, the ones who’ve carjacked others, shot and stabbed others but they didn’t die (attempted murder), and so on. The fact they’re not hanging by a rope is the real testament to how accepting and tolerant we’ve become as a nation.

      2. Voting should be banned. A large group of people shouldn’t be allowed to take your stuff just because they outnumber you.

        1. ^^^^This^^^^

    2. It shouldn’t have exempted anyone. When a felon is released into society, he or she pays taxes right? No taxation without representation, right? If a felon has served his or her time and is free to walk the streets and is required to pay taxes, then he or she should be allowed to vote… period!

  4. Wait.
    I just saw this:
    “a vestige of the state’s racist “Black Codes.”

    W. T. F. Reason?
    You do not have to make everything about race.
    That is racist.
    Fuck you, Reason

    1. Yes they do.

      They’ve embraced Leftist identity politics, like all good schmucks indoctrinated in postmodern marxism.

      Everything they disagree with is racist. And Hitler.

  5. “Florida’s felony disenfranchisement laws were, like those in many other states, a vestige of the its racist 19th century “Black Codes,” which attempted to systematically criminalize freed slaves following the Civil War, and then bar them from voting.”

    Show your work, you racist piece of shit

  6. We also voted to ban vaping…

    And Marsi’s Law (ugh)

    1. Liberals claim to be for personal freedoms yet are always banning stuff.

  7. It just goes to show that bantu beasts are criminals
    I hope the leftist apologists & their SJW schl0m0 vile leaders get killed by their orc pets. The only solution to DemoRAT drones in the commie collective is extermination. If u don’t agree GO F YOURSELF

  8. So only blacks commit felonies?

    Don’t libertarian purists who say to restore voting rights for every felon understand that these people will vote Democrats?

    1. I’ve already addressed this false assumption, but I will point it out again. There is no evidence that felons are majority Democrat. Indiana has allowed felons who are not incarcerated (all felons) their right to vote and Indiana is a red state. Case closed.

      1. There’s a logical flaw in there somewhere.

        1. You are absolutely right, but I don’t remember the name of the fallacy. It’s the same one used when saying all felons vote Dem though.

  9. In my view people who don’t respect the rights of others in the street aren’t going to respect them in the voting booth. Restoring voting rights for victimlesss crimes makes sense but for violent crimes not so much. Voting is more of a tool to protect our other rights than anything else. It seems p

    1. Fat fingered that

      Seems pointless and counterproductive to put that tool in the hands of those with a history of abusing others.

  10. If you’ve done your time, stayed straight on parole, this is only right. However, being right looks like it will make Florida quite a bit more left.

  11. I live in a suburban city in GA. All these republicans who are for personal freedom, small government when it came to Democrats have no issue putting in city codes that make it tough for people with even minor drug offenses to live in apartments. Their code enforcement related to other property rights is very draconian. And yet, all you guys do is attack Democrats when it comes to regulations. Republicans are just as bad.

    1. It may interest you to know that Reason is not a republican outlet.

  12. How can people who just voted in a Republican senator and governor be that stupid?

    Someone who has committed a felony is such a poor decision maker that they should not be deciding on how other people live their lives.

  13. So now they have the right to vote. Don’t worry – they won’t. Many will be functional illiterates who can’t process the necessary information, and don’t have a sufficiently organized life to get out of bed and go vote.

    No blood, no foul.

  14. That’s terrible. They should be putting more restrictions on voting, not less.

  15. As libertarians we demand maximum freedom unless it means Democrats get elected.

    –Every comment here

    What is the purpose of this fucking place? Is it that you Team Red morons don’t like to be around all your compatriots at actual Team Red websites who spend most of their time calling black people monkeys? Am I going to have to sit here and figure out if that’s admirable or not?

    1. Every Democrat: “I want you to be ruled by felons.”

    2. It’s the right thing to do, even if it means Team Blue wins more often. Principles, not principals.

  16. Hmm. Are they concerned that there would be an uptick in murders and indecent exposures at polling places? It’s not a child rich environment so that can’t be the concern that warrants excluding some classes of former felons

  17. Yes, the fact they’re not hanging by a rope is the real testament to how accepting and tolerant we’ve become as a nation.

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