Florida could be poised to score a major win for democracy come this November. Kira Lerner of ThinkProgress reports that a petition for a proposed state constitutional amendment has reached 766,200 signatures, enough to appear on the ballot this fall.
If passed, the Voting Restoration Amendment would — as its name suggests — restore voting rights to most Floridians convicted of nonviolent crimes, who have served their prison time, and subsequent parole and probation. Those convicted of violent or sexual crimes will still be unable to vote.
Sheena Meade, the Organizing Director for the Florida Rights Restoration Coalition — the group that spearheaded the petition efforts — told ThinkProgress that certification of the amendment is a big win for Florida.
Lerner puts the possibility of the amendment passing into startling perspective.
“Florida currently has one of the strictest felon disenfranchisement laws in the country — only Florida, Kentucky, Virginia, and Iowa permanently bar those with felony convictions from voting for life, unless they seek clemency. In total, roughly 1.6 million Florida citizens — about one in four African Americans — are barred from casting a ballot,” Lerner writes.
In other words, should a large fraction of these wrongfully disenfranchised Americans regain the right to vote, it could have profound implications for the future of Florida elections. An increased electorate, especially among African Americans who are statistically far more likely to vote Democratic, could shift Florida away from being a swing state, closer towards a blue stronghold. It’s an eventuality the GOP has fought long to prevent.
“The state’s strict disenfranchisement law dates back to the post-Civil War era when politicians were more overt about wanting to keep black residents from gaining political power. Since then, the law has been used to keep millions of Democratic-leaning voters from participating in the electoral process,” Lerner writes.
What’s more, the displacement and relocation of some 200,000 Puerto Ricans in the wake of Hurricane Maria — and Trump and his party’s refusal to help the island territory prepare or subsequently rebuild — could further tip Florida for the Democrats. The president ignored and betrayed the Americans living in Puerto Rico, and come the next election, they have a chance to strike back.
That said, by far the most important aspect of this news is not that it’s a win for the Democratic Party, but simply a win for the United States. Americans shouldn’t be barred from voting, regardless of their criminal past. If they are to be prosecuted and imprisoned under a legal system, they at the very least deserve a say in how that legal system is built, maintained, and changed.
It’s barbaric to throw people in prison for violating the law and then use that as an excuse to bar them from influencing the law going forward. The democratic vote is the sacred right of all Americans and the government shouldn’t have the ability to strip it away.