The passing of Amendment 4 on, Nov. 6, was a historic victory for many. However, it has been a long time coming considering Florida’s discriminatory voter disenfranchisement past.
Over 1.4 million felons will be able to vote in upcoming elections including the 2020 presidential election.
Amendment 4 automatically restores Floridians with felony convictions right to vote after they have fully completed all the terms of their sentences, as well as probation or parole.
The amendment does, however, exclude felons who are convicted of a sexual offense or murder.
Advocacy groups like the FRRC (Florida Rights Restored Coalition) were instrumental in getting felons voting rights restored through their grassroots movement.
Since 2011 the FRRC have been organizing Floridians to restore the ability to vote to felons or as they prefer to be called “returning citizens.”
The FRRC started the Second Chance Florida Campaign as a grassroots effort to restore voting rights to felons. They earned a spot on the ballot by verifying over 840,000 petitions across 15 congressional districts.
The movement had bi-partisan support and little opposition.
The amendment needed a supermajority of 60% of voters to pass and according to ballotpedia.org, it received a whopping 5,141,103 or 64.53%.
As a clemency lawyer (clemency is the governor’s power to grant mercy under the constitution) for over 25 years Reginald Garcia has presented to four governors and numerous cabinet members. He has assisted people with the restoration of their civil rights (voting is a part of a person’s civil rights) and he is the author of two books about clemency.
“In my capacity as a clemency lawyer I just believe the current rules are too complicated and the process takes too long,” said Garcia about the voting restoration process.
The Fla. Constitution placed a lifetime ban on voting for convicted felons unless the felon applied for voter restoration and the clemency board chose to restore their voting right.
Florida was one of four states with a lifetime ban on voting for convicted felons.
Trying to convince the clemency board (composed of the governor and three cabinet members) was a burdensome process.
The board met four times a year and they heard fewer than 100 cases per quarter.
The board had a backlog of over 10,000 cases.
Felons had to wait five to seven years after they completed the terms of their sentence before they could seek voting right restoration.
After the waiting period was over, they could file a written application to the clemency board.
The board randomly selected whether or not to approve an application.
If they were selected, the person would typically plead their case in front of the clemency board.
In Gov. Rick Scott’s eight years in office, a little over 3,000 people received their voting rights back, out of more than 30,000 applicants.
In comparison to Scott’s predecessor Charlie Crist who restored more than 155,000 voting rights in his four years in office.
Crist used a process in which many felons had their voting rights restored without hearings or an application process. Crist implemented automatic restoration rights for non-violent offenders but, Scott removed it.
The Fla. felon disenfranchisement dates back to the reconstruction period in Florida.
During the reconstruction era, the Fla. legislature enacted Black Codes in the constitution of 1865 as a way to control freedmen. They added minor offenses as an extension to the criminal justice system because legislators thought African Americans were most likely to commit such crimes. The Black Codes led to more than 95% of convicts in the Florida convict camps to be African American from the 1870s to 1880s.
Although, Florida’s 1868 constitution allowed African American men to vote the legislators used tactics to suppress their right to vote.
A prime example of the tactics used was them broadening who could be disenfranchised; they added felons to it. Then, the legislators broadened the exact list of crimes that would get someone disenfranchised to include crimes such as homelessness and petty theft, crimes typically associated with newly freed slaves.
Felony disenfranchisement was used to stop newly freed slaves from voting much like the literacy test and poll taxes were.
In modern times a disproportionate number of people who were effected by felon disenfranchisement were African Americans.
Although, white men made up most of the convicted felon population in Fla. African American men were disproportionately impacted by felon disenfranchisement, 1 in 5 African American men were unable to vote.
Sunny Anderson is one of the 1.4 million who will benefit from amendment 4. He is the owner of Cool Cutters a barbershop in Tallahassee.
“It is a good thing it is a step in the right direction because we have people who fight on the inside, we have people who fight on the outside … (we) have more of an opportunity (than before),” said Anderson.
According to Garcia amendment 4 takes effect on Jan. 8, 2019. A felon should complete Division of Elections Form 39, and Check yes to Question number 2, then mail or hand deliver it to the Supervisor of Elections.