Across the U.S., more than six million people have lost the right to vote because of their criminal records. More than 1.5 million of them live in Florida, more than in any other state, reports the New York Times Magazine. A proposed ballot initiative would automatically restore the right to vote to people with a felony conviction who have completed their sentences. The initiative makes two exceptions: no voting rights for people convicted of murder or sex offenses. The state certified the initiative, called Amendment 4, for the November ballot. Like any change to Florida’s Constitution, Amendment 4 needs 60 percent of the vote to pass. The Times profiles Neil Volz, political director for the campaign, who was put on probation for a white-collar crime in Washington, D.C., in 2006.
Amendment 4, which would also allow former felons to serve on juries and run for public office, represents a potential civil rights triumph for its supporters. It could enfranchise more people at once than any single initiative since women’s suffrage. Amendment 4 could change the Florida electorate. A majority of the state’s former felons are white. At the same time, blacks are disproportionately affected by the current ban. More than one in five black voters can’t vote in Florida, compared with about one in 10 voters in the state’s population and one in 40 nationwide. Florida has a recent history of squeaker elections for governor, Congress and other offices. In three of the last five presidential contests, Florida went to a candidate who won the state by a margin of 1.2 percent or less. This year, polls show tossup races for governor (Republican Ron DeSantis against Democrat Andrew Gillum) and senator (Republican Rick Scott against Democrat Bill Nelson). Five congressional seats are also in play.