The amendment is long overdue. In 1974, Florida lawmakers passed a bill to restore the right to vote. The state Supreme Court struck it down.
On the ballot this November, Amendment 4 restores the right to vote to more than 1.5 million people in Florida with a felony conviction. One in ten people in the state are currently and permanently barred from voting because of a criminal record.
If passed, the measure would be a civil rights triumph, particularly for the LGBT community. Mass incarceration disproportionately harms queer individuals, who are three times more likely to be imprisoned than heterosexual people.
Every day, LGBT people, particularly transgender individuals, are jailed for sex work when they can find no other employment. Queer youth are forced from home and arrested for sleeping in the street. The sweep is extraordinary. At some point in their lives, half of homeless people are incarcerated and 70 percent of low-income LGBT people are homeless.
It inordinately impacts queer people of color. One in five black citizens in Florida can’t vote and, like in other states, the state's disenfranchisement is wrought and rooted in Jim Crow-era voter suppression. In 1868, Florida adopted a constitution disenfranchising those convicted of felonies, with one delegate saying the constitution prevented Florida from being “niggerized.” The state also enacted Black Codes, levying draconian penalties for minor crimes like vagrancy and petty theft.
It’s still part and parcel of Florida penal code. Trace drug possession, for example, is a felony in the state. Sleeping on public property is a crime too.
Only two other states, Iowa and Kentucky, permanently disenfranchise those convicted of felonies. It’s the ugliest of politics – of racism and vindictiveness, for votes counted and culled. A federal judge recently declared Florida's process of re-enfranchisement unconstitutional, calling it arbitrary and discriminatory. An applicant must go before the governor and a clemency board where around 3,000 people had their rights restored under Gov. Rick Scott in his two terms. Under Gov. Charlie Crist, who served one term, 155,000 did.
Still, today’s political landscape looks promising for the referendum, which excludes those convicted of murder or a sex offense. Two polls put support at more than 70 percent, with 60 percent of Republicans in favor in one. Its backing is bipartisan, with conservative Evangelical groups, Democrats and the Kochs’ political network behind it. Gubernatorial candidate Andrew Gillum is in support while Trump-backed Ron DeSantis opposes it.
The amendment is long overdue. In 1974, Florida lawmakers passed a bill to restore the right to vote. The state Supreme Court effectively struck it down.
Now it’s up to us, and a win is far from certain. A third poll conducted showed only 40 percent support, with 43 percent undecided, but did not explain what the measure stood for.
To your Republican or Democratic friends, straight and gay, please vote yes on Amendment 4 gives the right to vote to more people than any one measure since women's suffrage. It's historic, transformative and common sense. Permanent exclusion from this pillar of civic life serves no one.
Scott Greenberg is the executive director of the Freedom Fund, a non-governmental organization that works to eliminate the mass jailing of people, particularly LGBTQ individuals.