NO STATE comes close to disenfranchising its citizens at the rate Florida does. By doing so, the state extends the iniquities of Jim Crow into the modern era to the detriment of minority and, for the most part, Democratic voters. Now, after years of serving as an anti-democratic model, Florida appears about to see its voters drag it into the 21st century. They should.
Of 6.1 million former felons who remain barred from voting across the United States, more than a quarter of them — nearly 1.7 million — are Floridians. It is one of just three states that permanently bars all felons from voting unless their rights are individually restored following an arduous, years-long process. The result: More than 10 percent of voting-age adults, and more than 20 percent of African Americans, have no access to the ballot box in Florida. You read that correctly: 1 in 5 black adults in Florida cannot vote.
That’s a disgrace, and it’s a direct legacy of Florida’s post-Confederate history, which included an 1868 state constitution that stripped felons of voting rights and mandated minimum education requirements for first-time voters, a measure that affected newly freed slaves disproportionately.
Those disenfranchised in the state today are Americans who have completed their sentences, including probation and parole, yet remain stigmatized despite having paid their debt to society.
Mindful of that gross injustice and of Florida’s status as a restoration outlier, Gov. Charlie Crist (R) in 2007 modified Florida’s executive clemency rules so that voting rights were automatically restored for those convicted of lesser felonies following the completion of their sentences. Four years later, his successor, Gov. Rick Scott (R), scrapped that reform and threw up new impediments designed to block the restoration of voting rights, including a waiting period before ex-convicts were allowed even to apply for clemency. Since then, fewer than 3,000 former felons have managed to regain their rights.
Mr. Scott’s blatantly discriminatory, racially tilted policies generated a backlash in the form of a ballot initiative to amend the state constitution. This month, advocates for automatic voting rights restoration announced they had gathered the 766,000 signatures required to put the amendment on the state ballot in November. It will need 60 percent of the vote to succeed.
Advocates for the amendment call their campaign Florida Second Chances. That’s a good reminder of what Florida lacks and of the way it differs from all but a couple of other states. Permanent disenfranchisement is a retrograde, racist and anti-American project. Here’s hoping Floridians heave it onto the scrap heap of history.