More Than 1 Million People Had Their Voting Rights Restored In Florida

It will change future elections.

During Tuesday's midterm election, one of the most consequential results was not the election of a new member of Congress or a new governor. It was the restoration of voting rights for ex-felons in Florida.

Floridians approved Amendment 4 on Tuesday, which called for an automatic restoration of voting rights for the state's estimated 1.6 million felons who have completed their sentences. The only felons excluded were people convicted of murders or sex offenses. Before Tuesday, Florida was just one of three states — along with Iowa and Kentucky — which didn't allow ex-felons to vote.

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Democratic candidate for governor Andrew Gillum, who lost on Tuesday, supported the amendment. His opponent Ron DeSantis, who won, opposed it.

"If you have done your time and you've paid your debt to society, you ought to be able to reenter society and have your constitutional right to vote and to work here in this state," Gillum said during a debate.

David Gillum
Gillum speaks at an October campaign event David Herring / Shutterstock.com

Despite the candidates' disagreement, the measure was actually supported by people on both sides of the aisle. The American Civil Liberties Union, Catholic bishops, a political action committee connected to the conservative Koch brothers and singer John Legend all supported the amendment, according to The Washington Post.

Previously, ex-felons could go through a difficult process to restore their voting rights. The process was implemented by Florida Gov. Rick Scott, and could take almost seven years just to complete an application. Then, some would have to wait an additional year or two for their application to be reviewed. That's why only 3,000 of the 30,000 applicants ever made it through, according to the Florida Commission on Offender Review.

With its passage, the amendment could cause a tectonic shift in Florida elections going forward. The Sentencing Project's 2016 estimates say that as many as 1.5 million people will now be eligible to vote, which amounts to more than nine percent of the eligible voters in Florida. The Washington Post estimated the number was closet to 1.6 million. Around 418,000 African-Americans will now be eligible to vote in the state, representing about 18 percent of the entire eligible black voting community. 

Historically, Florida has been a hotly contested key state fought over by presidential candidates. The passage of Amendment 4 will reshape the electorate in Florida and could have an outsized impact on the outcome of the presidential election in 2020.

Cover image via  JLMcAnally / Shuttesrtock.

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