The Future of Felon Disenfranchisement Reform: Evidence from the Campaign to Restore Voting Rights in Florida
81 Pages Posted: 21 Jul 2021
Date Written: June 2021
This Article offers an empirical account of felon disenfranchisement and legal financial obligations in the era of mass incarceration. It focuses on a 2018 ballot initiative, known as Amendment 4, which sought to end lifetime disenfranchisement in Florida. At the time, the Republican controlled state accounted for more than a quarter of the six million citizens disenfranchised across the United States. Marshaling hundreds of public information requests, the Article analyzes the petitions collected to qualify the initiative for the ballot, the ballots cast for its remarkable bipartisan victory, the voter registration records of people whose voting rights were restored, and the outstanding fines and fees that still prevent most people with felony convictions from voting. Part I offers a history of the campaign and the tradeoffs it made to win Republican support, including its decisions to deemphasize race and limit the scope of reform. Part II validates the campaign’s effort to depoliticize disenfranchisement by demonstrating the limited partisan consequences of restoring the right to vote to people with felony convictions. Finally, Part III shows how unpaid fines and fees undermined the campaign’s attempt to dismantle disenfranchisement. Despite Amendment 4, Florida continues to disenfranchise more citizens than any other state.
Keywords: felon disenfranchisement, legal financial obligations, fines and fees, Amendment 4
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