Florida's legacy: leading the nation in disenfranchising people from voting
For the more than 1.5 million Floridians prohibited from voting because they were convicted of a felony, election season reinforces how the state’s voting laws don’t apply equally to all.
“If I don’t pay taxes, guess what? They’re coming after me,” says Pastor Greg James of Life Church International Center in Tallahassee. “But I can’t vote, so it’s taxation without representation.”
James, convicted as a first-time offender on a charge of conspiracy to sell drugs, served 14 years in prison before he was released in 2008. He is one of several Florida pastors with a felony record who, despite having turned their lives around, are barred from voting because Florida has one of the most restrictive laws for restoring voting rights in the country.
While the issue of disenfranchised felons is often perceived as something that affects blacks disproportionately, data collected by the Sentencing Project, a national nonprofit advocacy group, shows that three out of four Floridians who have lost their voting rights because of a felony conviction are white.
In the last six years, Florida has restored the voting rights of only 2,000 former felons.Another 10,463 men and women are on a growing waiting list, according to the Florida Commission on Offender Review. But hundreds of thousands like James don’t even bother to ask the state for permission to vote again.
This policy has an effect on Florida — and the nation’s — politics. Read more here.
And did you know that once there was a time in Florida when there were more blacks registered to vote than white? For more on that, and the history of Florida's history of suppressing the black vote, read here.