Florida Will Let Felons Vote
Florida’s new governor has successfully petitioned to “let most felons easily regain their voting rights after prison,” despite a ban added to the state constitution in 1868. Abby Goodnough reports for the NYT that “Florida has as many as 950,000 disenfranchised ex-offenders — far more than any other state — the vast majority black. Other states have repealed or scaled back similar bans in recent years, but roughly five million felons remain barred from the polls nationwide.”
(It should be noted that the original version of the piece incorrectly identified “The Jim Crow-era ban, added to Florida’s Constitution in 1968.” That it was instead added during Reconstruction, when black political power in Florida was at its height owing to the temporary disenfranchisement of former Confederates, certainly gives a rather different connotation to the ban.)
With the change in Florida, Kentucky and Virginia are the only two states that have a permanent ban on felon voting:
Farhad Manjoo points out that, given Florida’s status as a swing state, the political impact of this move could be huge.
“This is going to have a very big impact,” says Christopher Uggen, a sociologist at the University of Minnesota who is coauthor, with Jeff Manza, of “Locked Out: Felon Disenfranchisement and American Democracy.” Voting-rights activists say that there are about 950,000 felons in Florida who have served their time but are currently ineligible to vote — making up roughly 9 percent of the state’s voting-age population, and more disenfranchised felons than in any other state. The ex-cons belong to traditionally Democratic demographics — many are African-American, and many are poor. If they’re allowed to vote, they’ll likely go to the polls at lower rates than everyone else; Uggen and Manza’s work suggests felons turn out to vote at about the half the general turnout rate in any given election. But in a state as closely divided politically as Florida, that could still make all the difference. In the past several decades, say Uggen and Manza, at least two Senate races in Florida would have gone to Democrats instead of Republicans had felons had the right to vote. Buddy McKay would have beaten Connie Mack in 1988, and Betty Castor would have beaten Mel Martinez in 2004. And, of course, the 2000 presidential election would have gone to Al Gore. Uggen and Manza’s research suggests Gore might have picked up 60,000 votes from felons.
By restoring ex-cons’ rights, in other words, Florida’s new Republican governor has added tens of thousands of Democratic voters to the rolls — possibly pushing a House seat or two into the blue column, certainly making life a little bit easier for Hillary Clinton, Barack Obama or whoever else wins next year’s Democratic presidential nomination.
Despite the political implications, which are both harmful to my interests and a trifle bizarre (the 2000 election would have been decided by felons had this policy been in effect), it seems reasonable enough that those who have served their sentence and are back in society to have the rights and responsibilities of citizenship. Presuming that they have paid their debt to society–including completing any probationary period–it’s not clear to me why adult taxpayers should be denied the franchise.