Florida’s Amendment 4 would restore the voting rights of 1.7 million formerly incarcerated people
The upcoming November midterm elections poses a unique opportunity for Florida’s 13 million voters to assist in prison reform. After 850,000 Florida voters signed a petition to demand “Amendment 4”, a voting rights restoration bill, be on the November election ballot, Florida may finally allow convicted felons the right to vote without an elaborate clemency application process.
If passed, around 1.7 million convicted felons will have their voting rights restored. To be eligible, felons would need to complete their sentences, which include house arrest, jail time, financial costs, and all other special requirements, and felons convicted of sex crimes or murder are not eligible.
Under current Florida law, once felons finish their sentence, they can apply for clemency after five years. However, the process can take many additional years to approve an application.
According to a piece written by Florida civil rights lawyer Reggie Garcia in the Miami Herald, the Florida Commission on Offender Review has found that most felons with restored civil rights or who are given any avenues for civic participation are less likely to commit new crimes. “If you consider data from the last seven fiscal years, a total of 5,344 felons were granted clemency restoration of civil rights and only 12 people were convicted of new felonies requiring state prison,” Garcia writes.
Garcia argues that this could save the state money in the long run. Florida taxpayers currently fund over 130 Florida state and federal prisons. This does not take into account private prisons.
Although many rightly point out that the right to vote shouldn’t be based on who saves money, and if felons are affected by laws there should be no conditions for them having input in shaping them, Amendment 4 is quickly gaining national support from many voting advocacy groups who maintain that Florida’s current law is a remnant of Jim Crow law, designed to deter Black Americans from voting. The amendment requires 60% of all voters’ approval to amend the state’s constitution.