On Tuesday, Florida voters will decide on a constitutional amendment that, if approved, could shift the state decisively “blue” as it thwarts President Donald Trump’s chances of winning there in 2020.
Amendment 4 restores the voting rights of the state’s 1.5 million felons. The amendment immediately grants the right to vote to most felons who have completed their sentences. Sex offenders and rapists would not be eligible.
Florida leads the nation with the most people barred from voting for a felony conviction.
Under current law, Florida’s Board of Executive Clemency meets four times a year to review clemency appeals for the restoration of the right to vote. Over 20,000 Floridians are on the waiting list for that review, which occurs following after a five-year waiting period.
But the amendment would do away with the clemency process and open a floodgate of not just new voters, but likely Democrat ones.
In January 2014, a study published in the Annals of the American Academy of Political and Social Science found felons are overwhelmingly likely to register as Democrats, calling the trend “a key reason why liberal lawmakers and governors are eager for them to get back into the voting booth after their release.”
By a 5-1 ratio in many states, felons are more likely to identify as Democrats than Republicans, the study found.
In 2016 Trump carried Florida by just 112,000 votes.
If Amendment 4 had been enacted at that time, only about 200,000 potential new “felon” voters would have needed to cast ballots to give the state’s electoral votes to Hillary Clinton.
The ACLU and other liberal groups are campaigning in favor of Amendment 4, as is a political action committee funded by the Koch brothers. Supporters of the amendment have spent over $16 million to influence the outcome so far — nearly $5.4 million of that coming from the ACLU alone.
A growing number of conservatives are warning Republican voters of the danger of the ballot amendment.
Leading the charge against the ballot measure is conservative Tampa lawyer Richard Harrison, founder of Floridians for a Sensible Voting Rights Policy.
Harrison emphasizes his nonpartisan organization is not opposed to clemency per se, and is certainly open to criminal-justice reforms. But he does oppose clemency “on this mass, indiscriminate basis,” he says.
One of Harrison’s biggest objections to Amendment 4: It treats all felons the same as far as clemency is concerned. That means a felon who shot someone during a convenience store robbery would be treated the same as someone with a non-violence drug offense, for example.
He asks why would violent and non-violent offenders be treated the same.
But Harrison sees a more nefarious aspect to the massive push to get felons to vote: The real purpose, he says, is to give Democrats a key political advantage in 2020 and beyond.
“It doesn’t take a lot to change an outcome here, and that’s the political piece of this,” says Harrison. “There’s 1.5 million convicted felons in Florida. Most of them would be covered by the amendment if it passes. . . . Who I’m confident the Democrats will target.”
“And I’m confident that’s why the ACLU and [financier George] Soros and a bunch of liberals outside the state of Florida have pumped $16 million into the campaign according to the last report,” he says.
Harrison says for the first few years activists were campaigning in Florida to restore felons’ voting rights “it was a genuine grassroots type of campaign.”
He adds, however, that “after the 2016 election, the liberal forces co-opted the process and turned it into a money machine.”
The latest polls suggest the vote on Amendment 4 is too close to call. A St. Pete Polls survey earlier this week found that of voters who had voted already, about 63 percent favored the Amendment. But of those who have yet to vote, only about 57 percent are in favor — well short of the 60 percent mark required to amend the state’s constitution. The survey found that about 8 percent of Florida voters remain undecided.
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