As voters anxiously watch Florida’s races teeter on the edge of blue and red, one ballot measure has already won in the state: a constitutional amendment to restore voting rights to over one million residents with felony convictions. The amendment will lead to the biggest restoration of voting rights in America in decades, according to Mother Jones.
The amendment, dubbed the Voting Restoration Amendment, will automatically restore voting rights to Florida felons who have “served their sentences, completed parole or probation and paid restitution,” according to the Palm Beach Post. The amendment excludes those convicted of murder and sex offenders. It needed at least 60 percent of the vote to pass.
The U.S. stands alone in the world in our enthusiasm for disenfranchising felons. In 2012, 5.85 million voters, or 2.5 percent of all potential voters in the nation, were unable to vote because of prior felonies, The Guardian reported at the time. Florida had the highest number of disenfranchised felons of any state.
In 2007, former Florida Gov. Charlie Crist made some effort to reform the state’s policies on felon disenfranchisement. But those changes were stymied by Republican Gov. Rick Scott in 2011, who made it impossible for felons to vote until seven years after they complete parole.
Several other states, including Virginia, have recently moved to restore voting rights to some former felons.
The restoration of voting rights in Florida could majorly change the political landscape. Felons are disproportionately black compared to the general population. In 2010, one study found that a full third of black men in the U.S. had a felony conviction, up from 13 percent in 1980, while only about 10 percent of all adult males had a felony on their record.
From Mother Jones:
Of the 40,000 ex-felons who were granted clemency under Gov. Charlie Crist in 2007 and registered to vote, 59 percent registered as Democrats. And one academic study showed that Al Gore would have defeated George W. Bush in 2000 by up to 60,000 votes in Florida if not for the felon disenfranchisement law.
But however the amendment pans out politically, it’s a victory for democracy on a day when the limits of our current voting system were laid bare.
“We’re challenging the notion that only certain people care about voting rights,” Faiz Shakir, the national political director of the ACLU, one of the major backers of the amendment, told Mother Jones before the vote. “Building a massive coalition across the ideological spectrum would send the most resounding message in a state like Florida: What you thought possible was totally wrong.”