“Apart from being a fundamental democratic right, voting is essential to a formerly incarcerated citizen’s rehabilitation. . . [t]hese restrictions serve only to further alienate and isolate millions of Americans as they work to regain normality in their lives.” – Rep. John Conyers (D-MI).
Most states have voting restrictions for convicted felons. These restrictions, known as felony disenfranchisement, affects about 6.1 million Americans.2 This means there are 6 million lost voters every election. Disenfranchisement has a long history in North America, stemming back to the early colonial law. Usually, convicted felons are prohibited from voting until they complete their sentences, and in some cases, their probation or parole periods. The Supreme Court has upheld these voting restrictions pursuant to the 14th Amendment, which allows the government to prohibit a person’s voting rights if they “participate in rebellion, or other crime.
The figure above illustrates how states treat voting disenfranchisement. A few states bar felons from voting even after completion of their sentences. Until recently, Florida was one of those states. However, during the November 2018 midterm elections, voters approved Amendment 4, which reinstates voting rights to felonious offenders upon completion of their sentences. This Amendment passed easily, with 64% of Floridians voting to restore convicted felons’ voting rights. Amendment 4 excludes those convicted of murder or sex crimes.
This decision is very important for Florida. As a result of Amendment 4, almost 1.5 million people will have their voting rights restored. This number makes up almost 10% of Florida’s voting-age population. Before this Amendment, Florida disenfranchised more voters than any other state in the nation. Further, as of 2016, 1 in 5 African Americans living in Florida were unable to vote because of this voting ban. The passing of Amendment 4 will allow many more Floridians, especially African American Floridians, to vote in future elections.
This figure reflects the high felony disenfranchisement rate in Florida compared to the rest of the nation. One study suggests that if felons in Florida were able to vote in the 2000 presidential election, the votes would have been tipped in favor of Al Gore. Thus, Amendment 4 truly is a big deal for Florida, and these voters have the potential to change Florida’s political sphere. At this point, it is hard to say what affects Amendment 4 will have on elections. But it is undeniable this new group of voters will hold power during future elections.
For a discussion on felony disenfranchisement, read:
Susan E. Marquardt, Deprivation of a Felon’s Right to Vote: Constitutional Concerns, Policy Issues and Suggested Reform for Felony Disenfranchisement Law, 82 U. Det. Mercy L. Rev. 279 (2005).
To see the full text of Amendment 4 (Voter Restoration Amendment) visit:
ACLU of Florida, Voter Restoration Amendment Text, https://www.aclufl.org/en/voter-restoration-amendment-text (last visited Nov. 13, 2018).
For a more in-depth analysis of disenfranchisement in Florida, read:
Allison J. Riggs, Felony Disenfranchisement in Florida: Past, Present And Future, 28 J. Civ. Rts. & Econ. Dev. 107 (2015).
 German Lopez, Florida votes to restore ex-felon voting rights with Amendment 4, Vox, https://www.vox.com/policy-and-politics/2018/11/6/18052374/florida-amendment-4-felon-voting-rights-results (last updated Nov. 7, 2018).
 Grace Panetta and Shayanne Gal, Florida just restored voting rights to 1.5 million people with felony convictions, Business Insider (Nov. 7, 2018), https://www.businessinsider.com/felony-disenfranchisement-states-florida-amendment-4-voting-rights-2018-11.
 Jordan Malter, Florida restores voting rights to more than 1 million former felons, CNBC (Nov. 6, 2018), https://www.cnbc.com/2018/11/06/florida-restores-voting-rights-to-more-than-1-million-former-felons.html.
 Tim Mak, Over 1 Million Florida Felons Win Right To Vote With Amendment 4, NPR (Nov. 7, 2018), https://www.npr.org/2018/11/07/665031366/over-a-million-florida-ex-felons-win-right-to-vote-with-amendment-4.
 Florida Division of Elections, “Voting Restoration Amendment 14-01,” accessed Nov. 13, 2018.
 Malter, supra note 7.
 Lopez, supra note 1.
 Christopher Uggen et al., 6 Million Lost Voters: State-Level Estimates of Felony Disenfranchisement, 2016, The Sentencing Project (Oct. 6, 2016), https://www.sentencingproject.org/publications/6-million-lost-voters-state-level-estimates-felony-disenfranchisement-2016/.
 Elena Holodny, Millions of American adults are not allowed to vote – and they could change history, Business Insider (Jan. 3, 2018), https://www.businessinsider.com/what-if-felons-could-vote-2017-7.