While the Democrats winning the House in last month’s midterms means new checks and balances on the Trump admin’s efforts to turn federal coffers into the donor class’s piggyback, the result of a Florida ballot question is arguably the greatest win of 2018.
Amendment 4, the ballot initiative that received 64% of the vote, will restore voting rights to 1.4 million Floridians with felony convictions (except those convicted of felony sex crimes and murder). It effectively overturns a 150 year ban on voting for felons, the history of which is directly linked to the Reconstruction Era and institutional racism.
Florida’s 1868 constitution, which Congress forced the state to rewrite to include every man in the electorate after the 13th amendment’s passage, served as the origin of the state’s lifetime ban on felons voting. Given that in the 1870s, an estimated 95% of convicts in the south were Black, in no small part due to Jim Crow laws, a lifetime ban on felons voting effectively shrunk the Black electorate with little collateral damage. While the number of non-Black convicts has grown over the years, Blacks are still four times as likely to be disenfranchised, with 21% of Florida’s Black citizens having lost their right to vote.
Given how close Florida’s statewide elections were, this is a cause for celebration. The point of any democracy is to have more people, not less, involved in the decision-making processes. As Americans, we should always be weary of any attempts to unilaterally remove citizens from the electorate, whether it be on the basis of race, gender, sexuality, income, and, yes, former incarceration.
It’s important to remember that in order for this initiative to pass, it required those eligible to vote to uphold the rights of their disenfranchised peers. That this took place along party lines is nothing short of amazing, and gives hope to voting rights activists in Iowa and Kentucky, the only other states when felons are disenfranchised for life. After all, there are over 4 million disenfranchised felons in the rest of the US that need their rights’ restored. The work is far from over, and our elections remain tainted until this form of voter suppression is dealt with.