Today, the Tampa Bay Times published an op-ed by CLC’s Blair Bowie and partners from Alabama Appleseed, a small nonprofit that has partnered with CLC to educate the public about barriers to voting rights.
The piece calls attention to the importance of voter education and empowerment to spread the word about the passage of Amendment 4 in this year’s midterm elections. The Amendment restores voting rights to people with past felony convictions. It was resoundingly approved by Florida voters.
By restoring the rights of 1.4 million people, Amendment 4 has the potential to be the largest expansion of voting rights in decades. It is set to go into effect on January 8, 2019. But absent state action, this important reform could go unrealized. Floridians can look to their neighbors in Alabama for proof this is real.
A study conducted by the Alabama Appleseed Center for Law & Justice found that 71.2 percent of those surveyed who were previously disenfranchised did not know that the law had changed and their right to vote had been restored – after Alabama changed their law in 2017 to clarify that felony convictions do not necessarily deny citizens of the right to vote. Florida must show a stronger commitment to educating voters and election officials in order for Amendment 4 to succeed.
Amendment 4’s language is plain and simple. It doesn’t require “implementing” legislation, which could only muddy the waters. It requires Florida’s Secretary of State to lead the way to ensure that the state transitions properly to expand its electorate, which is the will of nearly 65 percent of Florida voters.
Highlighting the story of Mary Thomas of Tuscaloosa, Alabama, the authors caution the state of Florida to do better than its neighbors in Alabama and communicate the message about changes in voter eligibility.
In Alabama, tens of thousands of eligible voters were left in the dark about their status. Unless the state steps up to educate voters, Florida could fail an even greater number of potential voters.
Learn more about voting rights restoration in your state at: RestoreYourVote.org