Update: On November 6th, Florida voted and 64.5% voted YES on Amendment 4. This surpassed the required 60% threshold and will become and constitutional amendment.
There are 13 amendments on the November 6, 2018, Florida ballot. That means voters will be asked to make a number of important choices about both their elected officials and proposed changes to the state constitution.
The amendments cover issues ranging from the homestead property tax exemption to a ban on commercial dog racing in the Sunshine State; but, here at The Florida House Experience, it’s FL amendment 4 that’s getting a lot of attention. If passed, people who have been convicted of drug offenses could have their right to vote restored, while a “no” on FL 4 would continue the current lifetime ban on voting rights for felons in Florida.
What Is FL Amendment 4?
FL amendment 4 proposes to restore the voting rights to former felons who have served their entire sentence (including completing their parole and probation). These rights were removed back in 1868 by Florida’s post-Civil War Constitution and originally included multiple measures to ban freed slaves from voting.
The ban on felon voting in Florida remained for a century and was retained in the state’s 1968 Constitution. During the 1970’s the courts granted clemency powers to the governor, and while serving as the 44th Governor of Florida from 2007 to 2011, Democrat Charlie Crist gave over 150,000 felons the right to vote.
Under Republican Gov. Rick Scott (elected 2011) new clemency rules came into place, and between 2011 and 2017 approximately 30,000 felons in Florida applied to have their voting rights restored, and about 3,000 – or one in ten, were successful in their application. According to the League of Women Voters’ of Florida (LWV-FL), there are about 10,000 backlogged clemency applications currently pending, and the Clemency Board reviews “about 50 cases each quarter” — nearly 200 each year.
It’s important to note that the proposed Amendment 4 excludes felons convicted of murder or a felony sexual offense. That means if FL 4 is passed, some felons would still be banned from voting.
How the Current Law Impacts Convicted Felons in Florida
Right now, a felony conviction in Florida includes an automatic, indefinite suspension of civil rights, which includes a prohibition on voting and running for public office. That includes anyone who has been convicted of a drug felony, which impacts a significant number of people within the recovery community.
Felons are allowed to apply to the Florida Clemency Board after completing a five-year waiting period once they have served their entire sentence. The Board, which includes the Governor, state Attorney General, and two other state officials, meets four times each year to rule on a variety of clemency applications, including requests to restore civil rights; namely, the right to vote.
As noted above, having those rights restored through the current clemency process is exceptionally time-consuming, complicated, and the odds are against getting a positive result once an application reached the Clemency Board.
Given the fact that there are more than 1.6 million convicted felons living in Florida representing 10.43 percent of people at or over the legal voting age, a yes on 4 FL could have a significant impact on both voter turnout and the outcome, of future elections.
In Florida, as is the case throughout America, a disproportionate number of felons are non-white, including in Florida, where “more than 20 percent of otherwise eligible African-American adults are unable to vote” because of the 150-year-old law.
What Amendment 4 Advocates Are Saying
Advocates of voter reform in Florida have some solid numbers to demonstrate the impact that voter disenfranchisement has on the state budget. A recent economic research report generated by the right-leaning Washington Economics Group of Coral Gables, commissioned by the Alliance for Safety and Justice, claims that blocking felons from voting has cost the state approximately $385 million, led to the reincarnation of 3,500 offenders, and reduced the number of jobs in Florida by 3,800.
FL amendment 4 is expected to help lower recidivism rates for felons, given the fact that during the time when Governor Crist was in office, “the average two-year recidivism rate for felons who had their (voting) rights restored was 12.4 percent, lower than the three-year average recidivism rate of all felons, which was 26.3 percent“. These numbers support the fact that voting can be a critical piece of criminal rehabilitation – people who vote tend to feel a sense of ownership in their community, and that ownership helps reduce criminal activity.
Supporters of the Yes on 4 FL initiative include singer, songwriter, and actor John Legend along with an estimated 71 percent of the population, according to a poll conducted by the University of North Florida. The poll also found significant support for Amendment 4 across all parties, with 83 percent of responding Democrats and 62 percent of responding Republicans saying they will vote yes on FL 4 on November 6.
Similarly, a bipartisan survey released on October 1, 2018 jointly by North Star Opinion Research and EMC Research pegged the current Amendment 4 approval rating at 74 percent. Given that amendments need a minimum of 60 percent voter approval to be added to the Florida state constitution, advocates of voter reform are hopeful that the vote on November 6 reflects current polling numbers. Unfortunately, as is the case for general elections and particularly midterms, voter turnout is often low and a poll of the general population does not always reflect results on election day.
The Case For No on 4 FL
Despite the fact that the FL 4 amendment is ranking high in pre-election polling, a significant number of voters are opposed to any changes that could reduce disenfranchisement rates and increase voter eligibility. Based on polling predictions, approximately 25 to 30 percent of Florida voters plan to vote “no” on 4 FL.
Interestingly, there is at least one prisoner right’s group also opposing 4 FL. Paul Wright, director of the Human Rights Defence Center and editor of Prison Legal News is quoted as saying, “we oppose these divide-and-conquer type tactics that single people our based on offense category“.
Drug Offences and Amendment 4 – Why This Amendment Matters To Recovering Addicts
In Florida, possession of any kind of illegal substance could lead to a felony conviction — and, a lifetime loss of your voting rights. In fact, possessing even a small quantity of hashish or a marijuana extract can strip you of your civil rights indefinitely. But, let’s face it — when you’re struggling with an addiction, voting isn’t a top-of-mind issue for you.
For many addicts the loss of their civil rights is another stigma on their recovery efforts; it makes them feel like they are constantly reminded of their past mistakes no matter how successful they are following treatment. Being barred from voting also renders addicts powerless when it comes to having a say in critical issues related to addiction such as health care reform and funding for detox services.
Connect With The FHE Alumni Community
Want to know more about how the FL amendment 4 could impact you? Looking to connect with others in the recovery community?
At the Florida House Experience we encourage our alumni to continue with their recovery journey by participating in our aftercare and alumni programs. Whether you are seeking to become more aware of political issues that affect our community, need ongoing support services, or would like to be a part of a vibrant network of people committed to clean living, we’re here for you.
And remember, on November 6, every vote counts! So, get OUT there and rock the vote!