As millions of Floridians went to the polls Tuesday to elect new state and federal officials, they also considered another issue that could dramatically shape future elections there: Florida voters decided to amend the state constitution to automatically restore the voting rights of felons after they complete their sentences.
assage of the constitutional amendment in Florida will extend voting rights to as many as 1.6 million felons disenfranchised as a result of their criminal convictions. The flood of new voters could disrupt a balance between the two parties in future elections in a state that has traditionally had some of the closest outcomes in the country. The result came on the same night that Democrats and Republicans were again locked in exceptionally tight battles for a Senate seat and the governor’s mansion.
Proposed constitutional amendments in Florida require the approval of at least 60 percent of voters for passage, a bar that voters cleared Tuesday night.
Florida had been one of just four states to permanently prohibit felons from voting. Under previous law, felons had to apply to the governor for clemency on an individual basis — just 3,000 people had successfully navigated the process and had their rights restored in the past eight years.
The proposal was supported by a diverse array of interest groups, including the American Civil Liberties Union, Catholic bishops and a political action committee connected to the conservative Koch brothers. Singer John Legend also was a supporter.
The initiative, which would exclude people convicted of murder or sexual offenses, had also become an issue in Florida’s hotly contested gubernatorial race. The Democratic nominee, Tallahassee Mayor Andrew Gillum, endorsed its passage; Republican Ron DeSantis, a former congressman, 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 recent debate.
DeSantis countered: “I want people to be redeemed. But you’ve got to prove that you’re getting back with the law.”