Last year, writing about the state that disenfranchised more of its voters than any other, I asked, “Will Florida banish the ghost of Jim Crow?” On Tuesday its voters did so, amending their state constitution to restore voting rights for convicted felons who’ve served their sentence, except those convicted of murder and some sex offenses.
This is a hugely consequential result. The change will extend the vote to more than 1 million Floridians. (The 2016 presidential vote in the state was determined by 112,911 votes. In 2012, the margin of victory was 74,309 votes. In 2000, it was 537 votes.)
African American voters will disproportionately benefit from the change, given their higher representation among heretofore disenfranchised felons. And the amendment will right a wrong first perpetrated after the Civil War, when white-supremacist legislators resisted the equal treatment of blacks.
Though their attempts to block the Fourteenth Amendment failed, and though the Reconstruction Act of 1867 forced Florida to add an article to its state constitution granting suffrage to all men, these legislators suppressed the black vote with educational requirements and a voting ban for convicted felons, knowing blacks had been and would be abused by the criminal-justice system. Florida’s constitution changed a century later, during the civil-rights era, but the blanket ban on voting by convicted felons remained, excepting only those given clemency.