On a big day for Florida, Governor Ron DeSantis assumed his new position on Tuesday and, despite his efforts to delay it, Amendment 4 took effect. Under this new law, 1.4 million Florida felons who have completed their sentences may now register to vote.
Talk of legislative delays and red tape worried some Floridians, as DeSantis, who opposed Amendment 4, spoke in December of delaying the effects of the law until the legislature approved "implementing language." But the law went into full effect Tuesday.
The Amendment passed on November 6th with the support of 64 percent of Florida voters, overturning an 1868 requirement that permanently stripped felons of their right to vote, even after completing their sentences. Today, only felons convicted of murder or sexual offenses must specially petition to have their rights restored.
Before Amendment 4, roughly 10 percent of the Florida population couldn't vote due to felony convictions. While voter turnout has been found to be low among felons, groups like the Florida Rights Restoration Coalition are mobilizing people to register in person and online. But even a fraction of these new potential voters could have a major influence on future elections in this battleground state. As Pacific Standard reported in November:
[T]here's a good chance that group skews to the left. A study published in the Annals of the American Academy of Political and Social Science in 2014 found that, in New York, New Mexico, and North Carolina, felons favored the Democratic Party. In New York, some 62 percent were registered Democrats, compared to 9 percent who registered Republican; in New Mexico, 52 percent were Democrats, while about 10 percent were Republicans; and about 54 percent were Democrats in North Carolina, compared to the roughly 10 percent who were Republicans.
According to Erika L. Wood, a law professor at New York Law School, there was long-lasting racial bias within Florida's former voting policy. The Sentencing Project reported in 2016 that over 21 percent of African Americans in Florida were disenfranchised due to felony convictions. Nationally, African Americans overwhelmingly vote Democrat. So, come 2020, things could look different in the state where President Donald Trump won by a margin of just 112,911 votes.