During this year’s elections, Florida voters cast their ballots in support of restoring voting rights to 1.4 million Floridians with felonies. The New York Times sheds light on the work of groups like Art for Justice grantee the Florida Rights Restoration Coalition, who did the work to change the hearts of minds of voters across the state:
“I do think that Amendment 4 is going to transform Florida forever, but nobody really knows exactly how and when, because nobody has a good understanding of what the political leanings are of 1.4 million people who have completed all the terms of their sentences,” said Howard Simon, executive director of the American Civil Liberties Union of Florida.
Over the past two decades, other states have enacted similar reforms, either through executive actions or ballot initiatives. Alabama reduced the kinds of crimes that could disqualify someone from voting, and California restored voting to people on probation. Maryland now allows people on probation and parole to vote, and the former Democratic governor of Virginia, Terry McAuliffe, restored voting rights to nearly 175,000 people.
Florida was one of just three remaining states — the others being Iowa and Kentucky — that prevented people with felony records from voting.
The change in Florida was long in the making. Crisscrossing the state with a message of redemption were volunteers from a broad coalition that included advocacy groups, Christian organizations, the League of Women Voters, criminal justice experts and, of course, those who had been convicted of felonies.
By successfully persuading Floridians to change the ban, the groups accomplished what a class-action lawsuit and various legislative attempts could not.