One of the few unambiguous victories of the 2018 midterm elections was the passage of Amendment 4, a ballot measure in Florida that would give voting rights back to 1.4 million people convicted of felonies in the state. It was the biggest American restoration in voting rights in decades.
Unfortunately, Florida’s midterms didn’t go so well for progressives elsewhere. After extremely close races, Florida’s Senate and gubernatorial races went to Republicans, and their state house failed to flip. Now, the state’s Republican elections chief is asking the Republican-controlled state legislature to “interpret” the measure, according to Mother Jones. This process could keep the measure from being enacted fully, despite it passing with 65 percent of the vote.
From Mother Jones:
To those who crafted Amendment 4, the ballot language was straightforward. It read, “This amendment restores the voting rights of Floridians with felony convictions after they complete all terms of their sentence including parole or probation.” It stipulated an exception for people convicted of murder or a sexual offense. [...]
This week, the first signs of obstruction arose. The secretary of state, Republican Ken Detzner, told the media on Tuesday that he believes the ballot language is unclear and, rather than give guidance to the elections supervisors, he wants the state Legislature to weigh in. “We need to get some direction from them as far as implementation and definitions—all the kind of things that the supervisors were asking,” he said. “It would be inappropriate for us to charge off without direction from them.”
On a county level, the implementation of the measure is also expected to be messy, Mother Jones writes:
Some counties say they will allow former felons to begin registering on January 8, but others may not. That could lead to lawsuits over the disparities in people’s voting rights based on the county where they live. Michael McDonald, a University of Florida professor and an expert in elections, predicted Tuesday that Detzner’s “resisting implementation of the restoration of felons voting rights…is going to lead to costly litigation for the state, with voters footing the bill.”
Republican lawmakers in the state have already begun questioning the measure’s implementation.
“How do you evaluate eligibility?” Republican State Senator Dennis Baxley, who will lead the committee that will oversee the issue in the legislature, told the Tampa Bay Times. “I still have some questions… What were the terms of their sentence? Do they have to meet probation? Did they complete their debt to society or not?”
Actually, it seems pretty simple—the people of Florida voted overwhelmingly to restore voting rights to nearly all former felons on January 8th. The state has a clear mandate to let everyone covered by the measure register to vote starting then.
The judge who approved the language on Amendment 4 last year agreed.
“The title and summary would reasonably lead voters to understand that the chief purpose of the amendment is to automatically restore voting rights to felony offenders, except those convicted of murder or felony sexual offenses, upon completion of all terms of their sentence,” Justice Fred Lewis wrote in his decision.
But we all know this isn’t really about a confusing language or concerns about eligibility. The insanely tight margins in many Florida elections are dwarfed by the number of newly enfranchised people. Many former felons are poor people of color, demographics that skew heavily Democratic. Though it’s despicable, it’s also entirely unsurprising that the Republicans are trying everything they can to undermine the will of the people and maintain their grip on Florida’s electorate.