Floridians voted Tuesday in favor of an amendment that will restore the right to vote for most convicted felons upon completion of their sentences, including prison terms, parole and probation.
“We showed that every ballot cast was a ballot cast with love,” Desmond Meade told the Orlando Sentinel, president of Floridians for a Fair Democracy and champion of the Amendment 4 initiative.
“We showed what can happen when we come together along the lines of humanity and reach each other where we’re at. That’s what happens when we transcend partisan lines and bickering, when we transcend racial anxieties and when we come together as God’s children.
While most formerly incarcerated people are rejoicing that Florida voters overturned the state’s 150-year-old constitutional voting ban, many others are feeling left behind, as the Amendment excludes restoration for those convicted of murder and sex crimes.
Paul Wright, editor of Prison Legal News and director of the Human Rights Defense Center, was convicted of murder in 1987 and spent nearly 20 years in prison. He doesn’t support the amendment.
“No one involved in the campaign for Amendment Four has said anything along the lines of ‘this is just the first step.’ They’ve all been pretty clear that this is it and that they’re done if the amendment passes,” Wright told The Crime Report.
Wright claimed money played a big role in excluding those convicted of murder and sex crimes from the initiative.
“No one is going to spend $16 million to re-enfranchise 80,000 murders and sex offenders,” Wright said.
Before Tuesday, the only way a person with a prior felony conviction could vote was through the state’s clemency system, led by the governor. Now, at least 1.4 million residents in the state can vote again – or for the first time, the Orlando Sentinel reports.
Florida leaves behind Iowa, Kentucky and Virginia in felony disenfranchisement, which began during the Reconstruction Era when politicians looked for ways to stop African Americans from voting after the 15th Amendment was ratified in 1870.
More Crime and Criminal Justice Ballot Results
Initiative-1639 in Washington State, the only state gun-regulations measure anywhere in the country, passed— effectively banning people under 21 from buying semi-automatic assault rifles and increasing background checks for those types of weapons.
Background checks will include a local law enforcement check of the most up-to-date local court, criminal and mental health records, and the completion of a firearm safety training course. New standards will be created for holding gun owners accountable if children or other prohibited people injure themselves or others with an insecurely stored firearm.
Also, in Washington voters approved initiative-940, requiring law enforcement officers to obtain violence de-escalation and mental health training to help officers resolve conflicts without using physical or deadly force.
In Oregon voters opted against Measure 105, which would have repealed the state ‘sanctuary law that would have forbade state and local law enforcement agencies from using public resources to arrest those whose only criminal violation is that they are illegally in the United States.
Louisianans voted yes to bar convicted felons, from seeking or holding public office until five years after completing their sentences. Voters in the state also voted to require an unanimous verdict of a 12-member jury for a felony conviction. The previous Jim Crow-era law allowed convictions when at least 10 of the 12 jurors agree.
In Colorado slavery can no longer be used as a punishment for any crime as voters opted to remove such language from the state Constitution. Article II, Section 26 of Colorado’s constitution has historically read there “shall never be in this state either slavery or involuntary servitude, except as a punishment for crime, whereof the party shall have been duly convicted,”
Now it will read “There shall never be in this state either slavery or involuntary servitude.”
Colorado District Attorney Dan Rubinstein opposed it as it could eliminate court-ordered community service.
“With most low-level offenses carrying jail, fines and community service as the only sentencing options, I fear that this action will result in more low-risk offenders filling our jails and would disproportionately incarcerate indigent offenders who lack the ability to pay fines,” Rubinstein recently said in a statement to KKCO 11 News.
The amendment was on the ballot two years ago but failed to pass due to confusing language.
Ohio Rejects Issue 1
In Ohio, though a recent poll showed that a near majority of voters supported Ohio State Issue 1—the proposed constitutional amendment that would change Ohio law to keep low-level drug offenders out of prison and promote more treatment of drug addiction—about 65 percent of voters rejected the amendment.
Ohio is among the top five states with the highest rates of opioid-related overdose deaths.
Ohio chief Justice Maureen O’Connor called the proposed amendment a disaster, arguing that “Ohio may end up with some of the most lenient drug crime laws in the nation if this proposed constitutional amendment passes,”
Voters in Michigan approved legalizing recreational marijuana while those in North Dakota voted against it. Medical marijuana is now legal in Utah and Missouri.
Florida, Georgia, Oklahoma, Kentucky, North Carolina, and Nevada expanded the rights of crime victims to their state constitutions in separate amendments. Some proposals would enshrine the right of crime victims to receive to receive timely notification of changes to the offender’s custodial status; others call for the right to be heard at plea or sentencing proceedings or any process that may result in the offender’s release; and the right to restitution.
All six initiatives were bankrolled by Henry Nicholas, the billionaire cofounder of semiconductor firm Broadcom.
The ACLU has called Marsy’s Laws unconstitutional.
J Gabriel Ware is a TCR news intern