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Why Your Vote Matters: Florida

October 24th, 2018, 6:03am by Sam Wang


(Written in collaboration with Owen Engel ’21.)

In less than two weeks, Florida voters have a chance to restore the right to vote to over 1.5 million Floridians – more than 1 in 10 of the adult voting population. This is by far the largest voting-rights question in any election in the nation. Amazingly, this is thanks to a ballot initiative that is backed by both the Koch brothers and the ACLU.

In addition, the two-decade hold by Republicans on Florida state politics could finally break if rising star Andrew Gillum wins the governor’s race. Finally, Florida has a whopping seven close Congressional races, a close Senate race, and a key Attorney General race.

Read on.

Under current law in Florida, people with prior felonies never regain the right to vote unless they are individually re-enfranchised by a state board. Governor Rick Scott (now a Senate candidate; more on that later) was key in the continued exclusion of felons after reversing a precedent set by his predecessor. After his election in 2010, Governor Scott and the legislature created a state board which only rarely approves voting rights applications from ex-felons. By national standards, this is not normal policy. Over 1.5 million Floridians – over 10% of the adult population – is disenfranchised, accounting for nearly half of the national total of people who have served their sentence, yet cannot vote.

This can be reversed by Amendment 4. Amendment 4 is buried in the twelve different amendments on the Florida ballot, and is one of two citizen-initiated amendments not placed there by the State Legislature or the Constitution Revision Commission. Amendment 4 would restore voting rights to former felons (excluding those convicted for sexual offenses or murder) who have completed their sentences, including parole and probation.

Amendment 4 is a civil rights issue: 21% of African-Americans in Florida are disenfranchised by the current policy. In addition, passage of Amendment 4 could make a big difference to Florida politics. Florida is the land of close elections: the margin of victory in the past two gubernatorial races, in 2010 and 2014, were 1.2% and 1.0% respectively. In 2016, Trump won Florida by 1.2%, and in 2012, Barack Obama won by only 0.9% – a little over 100,000 votes. And if Amendment 4 passes, hundreds of thousands of new voters would join or re-join the Florida electorate.

Amendment 4 is an amendment to the state constitution and needs 60% to pass; polls indicate that it may clear 70%, though some of that support appears soft. Both the conservative Koch-funded Freedom Partners, and two left-leaning groups, the American Civil Liberties Union and Floridians for a Fair Democracy, have endorsed Amendment 4. However, Amendment 4 is opposed by three Republican candidates for statewide office: Attorney General candidate Ashley Moody, gubernatorial candidate Ron DeSantis, Senate hopeful (and current governor) Rick Scott.

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After all that, we finally come to the candidate races: governor, Senate, attorney general, and Congressional races. It’s a remarkable confluence.

Governor. Andrew Gillum (D) faces Ron DeSantis (R) to replace the departing Rick Scott. Gillum would become only the third African-American governor in U.S. history (tied with Stacey Abrams in Georgia if she wins). Gillum currently leads by a median of 6 percentage points (n=9 October polls).

Senate. Incumbent Bill Nelson (D) is running a tight race against Rick Scott (R), and leads by 1.5 percentage points (n=8 October polls).

Attorney General. It’s a close race between Sean Shaw (D) and Ashley Moody (R) to replace Trump sidekick Pam Bondi. Moody would likely continue Bondi’s stance on attacking federal environmental policies. Shaw would join a multi-state lawsuit concerning the Emoluments Clause of the Constitution and Trump’s properties.

House. OK, here’s the big show. There are no fewer than seven key House races: Congressional districts 7, 15, 16, 18, 25, 26, and 27. It’s amazing. Polls suggest that most of these races are within five points.

Lots of reasons for Florida Man (and Florida Woman) to get out the vote! Volunteer for a campaign near you, and learn more about voting at vote.org.

Tags: 2018 Election · House · Senate

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