Excerpt from 1885 Florida Constitution. Photo edited and used with permission. Credit: State Archives of Florida.
About this Florida Phoenix series: Florida voters could face a whopping twelve different proposed amendments to the state Constitution on Nov. 6 – one of the longest lists ever. The amendments cover a wild ride of subjects, including complex changes to tax policy, banning offshore oil drilling and greyhound racing, expanding gambling, automatically restoring voting rights for ex-felons, setting new rules on lobbying, and even whether Florida should ban vaping in public places.
Even more challenging is that some of the amendments “bundle” several different ideas into one, meaning voters might be forced to vote for a thing they don’t like in order to approve something they want, or vice versa. (Plus, three of the amendments are mired in a legal challenge that’s before the Florida Supreme Court.)
It’s confusing, and the Phoenix is going to try in the coming days to briefly lay out all these amendments for you, explain what they will do, and tell you who supports it and who opposes it.
Amendment 4: Voting Restoration Amendment
Ballot summary: “This amendment restores the voting rights of Floridians with felony convictions after they complete all terms of their sentence including parole or probation. The amendment would not apply to those convicted of murder or sexual offenses, who would continue to be permanently barred from voting unless the Governor and Cabinet vote to restore their voting rights on a case by case basis.”
What it’s about:
Florida is one of just four states in the country that does not automatically restore the voting rights of someone who has served a sentence for a felony conviction. Instead, convicted felons must wait at least five years before they can ask to have their rights restored. They then have to go before Gov. Rick Scott and the rest of the state Cabinet, acting as the Executive Board of Clemency.
An estimated 1.5 million Floridians can’t vote because of a past conviction. And because the clemency board only meets four times a year, there’s a long backlog of ex-felons waiting to get a chance to make their case. As of September 1, there were 10,246 pending Restoration of Civil Rights clemency cases, according to the Florida Commission on Offender Review.
Amendment 4 would automatically restore voting rights for people who have a felony conviction and have completed parole or probation and paid restitution. Murderers and sex offenders would be excluded.
Who’s for it?
Virtually every progressive organization in the state, and many around the country. Let’s start out with the American Civil Liberties Union, whose national office gave millions to help get the initiative on the ballot.
The Bernie Sanders’ aligned group, Our Revolution, is also supportive; as is the libertarian-leaning Freedom Partners, which is financially backed by the conservative Koch Industries. And most every elected Democrat in Florida supports Amendment 4, including gubernatorial nominee Andrew Gillum.
Who’s against it?
Florida Republican candidate for governor Ron DeSantis and major Republican officeholders, such as Attorney General Pam Bondi and Department of Agriculture Commissioner Adam Putnam.
The only organization formally opposing it was created by a Tampa attorney named Richard Harrison.
Other key points
Of the 992 people who were granted clemency in 2016 and 2017, only one person was re-arrested on felony charges.
Amendment 4 needs 60 percent approval to pass.
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