Saturday, December 15, 2018

Florida Ballot Initiative A Step in the Right Direction

DAVID MAROTTOLO ’22

STAFF WRITER

This past week, political discourse was dominated by discussion of the midterm elections. However, the results of one vote stood out: in Florida, the population overwhelmingly voted to approve Amendment Four, commonly referred to as the “Second Chances” Amendment. According to the final polls, 64.1% of the Florida population voted in favor of the Amendment, clearing the 60% needed to pass the bill on to the Florida legislature.

But what is Amendment Four? This piece of legislation, once enacted, would abolish Florida’s lifelong voting ban on most convicted felons, excluding those convicted of murder or sex crimes. Prior to this, Florida’s constitution had banned any convicted felons from voting, even after their sentence had been served. The only chance of having one’s rights restored lay in receiving clemency from Florida’s governor. This barred 10% of Florida’s population, almost 1.69 million individuals, from voting. This also significantly impacted minority groups: nearly one in five African Americans were disenfranchised by these laws. Florida is not unique in this regard; some states, such as Kentucky and Iowa, enforce lifetime bans on felony voting. However, Amendment Four would restore voting rights to nearly 83% of that group, roughly 1.4 million people.

Many individuals, Florida residents and outside pundits alike, hail this move as an affirmation of American democracy, and a push against racially-motivated voting restrictions stemming from Jim-Crow-era biases (as the voting ban rules do). In fact, this move constitutes the largest expansion of voting rights since the Voting Rights Act in 1965.

However, the enactment of Amendment 4 is not guaranteed; that is up to the as-yet-undetermined governor of Florida. And even if the newly-elected governor upholds the wishes of Florida citizens, it does not change the fact that thirty-three other states uphold similar voting restrictions. One can only hope that other states with harsh exclusionary policies will consider similar measures in the future. In the meantime, Florida’s enactment of Amendment Four would certainly be a step in the right direction.

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