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Skwarecki writes: "Florida will become the 48th state where people who have completed a sentence for felony are eligible to vote."

Voters fill out their ballots. (photo: Joe Raedle/Getty)
Voters fill out their ballots. (photo: Joe Raedle/Getty)

Why It's Such a Big Deal That Former Felons Can Now Vote in Florida

By Beth Skwarecki, Lifehacker

08 November 18


hanks to last night’s vote, Florida will become the 48th state where people who have completed a sentence for felony are eligible to vote. (Kentucky and Iowa are the holdouts.) That means probably over a million people are granted the right to vote all at once—the largest such number since the 19th amendment.

Restoring voting rights means a lot more people can now vote

The Sentencing Project, which advocated for the new Florida amendment, reported in 2016 that 6 million people nationwide cannot vote because of felony convictions, a quarter of whom lived in Florida.

In most states, you cannot vote while you’re serving a sentence (shout out to Maine and Vermont, where you still can), and in some states you must wait until you’ve finished parole or probation. Florida’s Amendment 4 restores voting rights after parole or probation, as long as the crime was not murder or a felony sexual offense. Because of these exceptions, the number of people who gain voting eligibility with Amendment 4 will be less than 1.5 million, but it’s still a lot.

Felony disenfranchisement has a racist history and racist results

The laws prohibiting felons and ex-felons from voting don’t explicitly target African-Americans or any other group, but they can’t be separated from the fact that the criminal justice system tends to target people who are poor and/or minorities.

The rates of disenfranchisement aren’t the same across all demographics. In Florida, 9 percent of residents but 18 percent of black residents, according to Vox, were unable to vote due to past felony convictions.

These laws were enacted after the Civil War, as former slaves were gaining the right to vote. The Washington Post reports that many disenfranchisement laws, including Florida’s, were designed to include convictions more common among black than white residents.

The fight for voting rights is not over

Felony disenfranchisement is just one of many policies that keep otherwise eligible people away from the polls. Voter ID laws have a huge effect, especially when unreasonable requirements are put on them—for example, in North Dakota this year, voters had to show an ID that included a street address. That left many Native Americans unable to vote, since their homes often didn’t have street addresses. Tribal leaders mobilized to quickly assign addresses and print new cards in the days before the election, but many other voter ID laws don’t have as straightforward a solution. Either way, they disproportionately affect minority communities.

Voter suppression takes many other forms. For example, registered voters can be removed from the rolls under the guise of purging people who have died or moved. These actions often affect voters who should remain eligible, and “coincidentally,” they’re on the rise in states with a history of racist voting laws.

Polling places are sometimes moved, or closed down, which makes it harder for people to vote. Dodge City, Kansas only has one polling place and moved it out of town this year. In general, when polling places move or are closed, that impacts voters of color the most. You might have trouble with transportation, or with getting enough time off work.

Every year, voters run into snags of all sorts, and these often affect minority and lower-income people the most. This year, shortages of working voting machines were so bad in some parts of Georgia and Texas that polling places stayed open late—in Texas, by court order. Still, guess who is more likely to have the luxury of time to wait in line an extra three hours to vote? We have a long way to go before all Americans have their say in our democracy.

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0 # DongiC 2018-11-08 15:58
Why is it so difficult for poor people to vote in these United States? Don't they fight to defend this country, pay taxes and obey the laws like the rest of us. Come on America let everyone enjoy the privilege
of participating in our democracy. This right is long overdue.
0 # elizabethblock 2018-11-08 22:47
Why do you think?
Some of the ultra-rich make no bones about it. They want government measures that favour them - make them richer and the rest of the people poorer - and they are fully aware that in a democracy they can't get them.
0 # elizabethblock 2018-11-08 22:45
In Canada, prisoners, as well as ex-prisoners, can vote. And the country hasn't disintegrated.
In Toronto, at least, homeless people can vote, though not many do. There are special provisions for them. Could they vote more than once? Probably, though it's very unlikely. A small price to pay for universal suffrage.
And btw, ALL polling places here are accessible. They are required to be, by law.

I heard, on the radio, about election observers in the U.S. from many other countries, including Russia. Well, golly gee.

I'm reminded of a New Yorker cartoon that shows a barbarian king, sitting in splendor on his throne. Through the door to the next room we can see some men in ancient Greek garb. The king's vizier is saying, "The Athenians are here, Sire, offering to back us with ships, money, arms, and men - and, of course, their usual lectures about democracy."

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