In a state where elections have brought recounts that last weeks and where 29 electoral votes can depend on a decimal point, much attention has been paid to how Florida’s overall electorate could change after November.
That’s when voters approved Amendment 4, a ballot measure that restored the right to vote to most people who had served out sentences for felony convictions. What would 1.2 million potential new voters mean to perhaps the purplest big state?
But an earlier test for Amendment 4 comes on March 5 in Tampa. It’s the election for the mayor and city council.
Monday marked the deadline to register to vote in the city’s election. That gave ex-felons in Tampa just 27 days to register if they intended to vote.
Newly-released data on registrations in January show us what Amendment 4 meant, at least so far: crowds of people registered to vote, and those crowds are older, blacker and more Democratic.
When the law took effect, supervisors of elections’ offices were as busy as they get before statewide general elections, despite it being January in an off-year. In Tampa, 426 people registered to vote that week, about 2.5 times as many as the weekly average in the months before.
At the beginning of 2019, 22 percent of Tampa voters were black. But on Jan. 8, the first day of Amendment 4, the black share of those registering to vote skyrocketed to 47 percent. For the entire week, black people made up 35 percent of new registrations.
When the Times analyzed records of Floridians taken off the voter rolls after a felony conviction, they found that black people were five times as likely to lose their voting rights as white people. Black men were much more likely to register to vote after Amendment 4 than black women.
At the beginning of the year, registered Democrats outnumbered Republicans in the city, 46 percent to 26 percent. Among those who registered during the first week Amendment 4 was in effect, the difference was even starker: 55 percent to 15 percent.
It’s also an older group of voters. Tampa’s newly-enfranchised are not teenagers registering as they get their drivers’ licenses. The average age of new registrants in Amendment 4′s first week was 46, almost eight years older than those who registered in the weeks following Election Day. Only 18 percent of new registrants after Amendment 4 were younger than 30, half as many as in the weeks before the law.
In Tampa, the effect of the law varies depending on where you go. The hotspot is, without a doubt, District 5, the East Tampa ward represented by City Council Chairman Frank Reddick,
Reddick said areas with high crime rates mean the region has an outsize number of people who are suddenly eligible to vote. The week Amendment 4 took effect, 38 percent of new registrations took place in District 5, nearly twice as many as in each of the other three districts that aren’t citywide.
Reddick said organizers worked hard to inform his constituents about the amendment and encouraged them to register to vote.
“They feel elevated now," he said. “They feel excited.”
Still, it concerned him that state agencies and lawmakers are scrutinizing key aspects of the law, which could produce changes after the Tampa election.
“I’m very, very worried about it. Because you have no knowledge, no advance knowledge of which way the Legislature might decide.”
He believes once the amendment is clear and prospective voters are more comfortable, “the numbers will go up.”
The numbers don’t include voters who registered in the first few days of February, meaning the full picture is unclear. Early voting begins Feb. 25.