Florida leads the nation with over 1 million citizens disenfranchised and unable to vote due to felony convictions. The path to having their voting rights restored is long and difficult, and has been found unconstitutional by a federal judge. This November, Floridians who are able to vote will determine whether convicted felons who have completed their sentences, including parole or probation, will automatically have their voting rights restored. With two glaring exceptions: those convicted of murder or a sex offense.
The problem with Amendment 4 is that it perpetuates the discrimination and bigotry of disenfranchisement against a subclass of ex-felons – those convicted of murder or sex crimes. All the talk of Amendment 4 being about second chances, redemption and reintegration into the community rings hollow and opportunistic when it excludes certain former prisoners from the franchise. No other state constitution, according to The Sentencing Project, singles out citizens by conviction offense with respect to restoration of voting rights.
Around the country, organizations led by former prisoners have made “All of us or none” a rallying cry against this very type of discrimination which seeks to divide and exclude. At a very base level, Amendment 4 pits members of an impoverished and oppressed community against one another.
Nowhere in the history of the American franchise has extending the right to vote been conditioned upon depriving voting rights to another group of people. When Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. advocated for civil rights for Black Americans, he did so for all Black Americans, not just some and, more importantly, not at the expense of Latino Americans, Native Americans or Asian Americans. When suffragettes fought for voting rights for women, they did so for all women, not just some. Most recently, the struggle for marriage equality by the LGBTQ community did not seek marriage rights for only certain LGBTQ people; they sought it for everyone and not at the expense of any other group.