While everyone was encouraged to vote on Nov. 6 in the past few weeks, not everyone’s ballot looked the same. Candidates and open positions varied from state to state, and depending on your district, you may have been asked to vote on the implementation of local laws. However, not everyone gets that opportunity. One law proposed in Florida has changed that.
On Nov. 6, Florida Amendment 4, the Voting Rights Restoration for Felons Initiative, was passed in Florida to allow convicted felons (with the exception of those convicted for murder, or any sexual offense, who continue to remain permanently kept from voting) the right to vote once their sentence has been served. This includes individuals serving parole or probation as well. After this vote, there are now only three states in the United States where all felons permanently lose the right to vote once convicted. Many states prevent voting while an individual is incarcerated, and some even disbar voting until parole or probation is finished, despite the individual living and functioning outside of prison. The Florida amendment received overwhelming support, surpassing the 60 percent majority vote it required to pass.
Before you ask the question that enters the mind of anyone reading political news — “Why should I care?” — it’s important to remember how many people this affects. Florida accounts for almost 25 percent of those in the United States who have lost their right to vote as the result of a felony conviction. That’s approximately 1.6 million citizens out of 6.1 million total individuals who are disenfranchised. Those votes matter, and have the potential to make a difference regardless of who’s behind the ballot. And for those who think that those who break the law shouldn’t have a say in creating laws, it might be best to withhold judgment on those incarcerated.
First of all, it’s no secret that the prison system isn’t exactly colorblind. African Americans are arrested at disproportionate rates compared to white Americans. With the passing of Amendment 4, nearly 17.9 percent of African Americans who had completed their sentences and couldn’t vote in 2016 will now be able to vote in 2020. Also, what about those men and women who served their time and returned to being functioning and productive members of society? They can pay taxes, but can’t vote for the lawmakers who dictate what they owe? Seems less than fair to me. Not to mention, if every college-aged student caught with recreational drugs was charged with a felony and disenfranchised, you would likely think that a lot of crucial votes would be missing from Election Day.
Thankfully, that harsh reality is over for many citizens. I think that Amendment 4 is a truly great step toward giving Americans a second chance. It has strong stipulations against murderers and sex offenders, which I agree with, but it gives those who’ve turned their lives around the reward they deserve. When the next election rolls around, you can be sure that those nearly 1.6 million Americans will be exercising their newly restored rights, and I’ll be proud to vote with them.
Elizabeth Short is a sophomore majoring in biology.