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 Other states have repealed or scaled back similar bans in recent years, but roughly five million felons remain barred from the polls nationwide.”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:

Felon Voter Rights Map

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.

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James Joyner
About James Joyner
James Joyner is Professor and Department Head of Security Studies at Marine Corps University's Command and Staff College. He's a former Army officer and Desert Storm veteran. Views expressed here are his own. Follow James on Twitter @DrJJoyner.


  1. lunacy says:

    I have to wonder how many felons would even bother to vote. I can’t see that many would have any great motivation.

  2. James Joyner says:

    They’d presumably have the same motivations to vote as anyone else. “Uggen and Manza’s work suggests felons turn out to vote at about the half the general turnout rate in any given election.” That’s probably about an average turnout when education and economic status is factored in.

  3. DL says:

    I’m frankly quite surprised that liberal states haven’t given them the right to two votes, on the basis of having so many strikes against them and self-esteem reparations and all that.

  4. Why not? How many pounds of flesh are required? They’ve paid their debt. Welcome them back into society.

    Hey, do I come off as a bleeding heart?

  5. lunacy says:

    Well, James, that sort of what I’m presuming…that the demographic that make up felon are probably not a huge voting block.

    Mind, I have absolutely no evidence. But I presume that many less educated or “disenfranchised” don’t believe in the system anyway. And therefore don’t participate. I would think to add felon onto whatever other characteristics were talking about, well, they would be even less likely to believe in the system.

  6. John Burgess says:

    With that many ‘new’ voters coming onto the rolls, I’m glad that FL has positive, photo ID required before one can cast a vote.

  7. Billy says:

    the 2000 election would have been decided by felons had this policy been in effect

    This is as true as saying that it was decided by 2000 people who voted for Bush in Florida. A nondisingenuous way of stating this is that had felons in Florida been allowed to vote in 2000, the election would have been decided by those felons plus the 51,000,000 other people, a plurality, who voted for Gore. .

  8. chsw says:

    One murder, one vote.


  9. G.A.Phillips says:

    Billy,In the first place all the people who voted for Algore should be felons for criminal stupidity not to mention their support for the murder of 45 million babies and counting, in the second place not all felons are liberals, in the third place James is right, what happened to forgiveness for those who have served their time and changed their ways? I would be more interested in a study on how many felons are liberals and why their there parents would raise them this way? I’ll bet its up its up around 90% and because their liberals.

  10. Beldar says:

    There was a time when being a voter meant that you were part of a privileged group.

    Felon disenfranchisement was intended to remove you from, or prevent you from ever entering, that privileged group — a dual purpose both deterrant and retributative. How much it ever satisfied either goal is questionable. Many crimes are felonies now that traditionally weren’t, and the perceived value of being able to vote is certainly less in our current realm of near-universal suffrage.

    My own preference would be to make disenfranchisement automatic, but with a fairly low threshold for granting re-enfranchisement. The felon who’s fully paid his “debt to society” ought have to do more than scribble his name on a postcard someone stuffs under his nose.

    We’re talking about where we want the “default” settings to be, not how hard it should be to flip the switch or toggle the zero to a one.