Florida Attorney General Pam Bondi has made it clear: She and Gov. Rick Scott are willing to fight against the ruling that Florida’s felon voting restoration system, which more or less amounts to a permanent revocation of voting for current and ex-felons, is unconstitutional as it violates the equal protection clause.
Earlier this April, Bondi filed a motion requesting a stay against the order that the state of Florida has until April 26 to revamp its current ex-felon voting restoration system.
Regardless what comes from this protracted legal fight, this November, Amendment 4 will give Floridians the opportunity to vote for the automatic restoration of voting rights for ex-felons (with the exception of those convicted of murder and sex crimes) after the completion of their sentences.
With more than 1.6 million Floridians – about 10 percent of would-be eligible voters –denied the right to vote because of a felony conviction, restoring this right would further democratize Florida’s electorate. However, for those opposed to such a restoration, that potential democratization is Amendment 4’s largest obstacle on the path to victory.
Unlike, for example, an ignition interlock device in the cars of those who have been convicted of a DUI – a punishment that fits the crime, since it actually reduces the risk of drivers to drive dangerously again – the distant relationship between felonious crimes and the right to vote is better explained as a deliberate attempt to shrink the electorate instead of enacting justice.
Florida’s current system of felony disenfranchisement disproportionately affects minority groups and low-income families, two groups which lean strongly Democratic in a state that is run by Republicans despite being characterized as “purple.”
The restoration of felon voting rights, in addition to the influx of Puerto Rican residents after Hurricane Maria, has the potential to significantly alter Florida’s political landscape and turn Florida’s shade of purple to blue.
Yet what should simply be a byproduct of increased democratization will likely serve as Amendment 4’s most substantial impediment to actualization. It shouldn’t be unexpected to see politically savvy conservatives vote against the amendment with intent of keeping Florida an overall Republican-friendly state as both ex-felons and Puerto Ricans typically vote Democrat, although both of these groups tend to vote at lower percentages.
Although Amendment 4 will presumably be presented as an ideological issue, the reality transcends partisan politics. Amendment 4 is less about transforming the politics of Florida and more about ensuring that Florida’s legislature and presidential picks fit the interest of as many Floridians as possible. Whatever the political consequences of this may be should be welcomed by both parties.
Matthew Brotz is a senior majoring in philosophy.