PolitiFact Florida: More felons regained right to vote in Florida than population of many states

In this Oct. 22 photo, people gather around the Ben & Jerry's "Yes on 4" truck as they learn about Amendment 4 and eat free ice cream at Charles Hadley Park in Miami.  (AP Photo/Wilfredo Lee)
In this Oct. 22 photo, people gather around the Ben & Jerry's "Yes on 4" truck as they learn about Amendment 4 and eat free ice cream at Charles Hadley Park in Miami. (AP Photo/Wilfredo Lee)
Published November 12 2018

Florida has had one of the toughest processes in the nation for felons to regain their voting rights, but that changed on election night when voters approved amending the state Constitution to restore the right to vote to many felons.

How many?

News articles put the figure at above 1 million. One observer — an New York University business professor — compared it to the population of several states:

"The number of people who just got their voting rights restored in Florida is greater than the populations of Wyoming, Vermont, Alaska, North Dakota, South Dakota, Delaware, Rhode Island, Montana, Maine and New Hampshire," tweeted professor Scott Galloway, who told PolitiFact that he wasn’t involved in Amendment 4 in Florida. Galloway was talking about the states individually and not combined.

We found that it was difficult to pinpoint the number of felons who are now eligible to vote, but estimates put it above the residential population of many smaller states.

Adding up
the eligible felons

Amendment 4, approved by about 64 percent of voters, amends the state Constitution to restore voting rights of Floridians with felony convictions after they complete the terms of their sentence including parole or probation. It does not apply to those convicted of murder or sexual offenses.

Florida has previously had one of the toughest processes in the nation for felons to regain their voting rights, which involved waiting for years and then appearing before the governor and state Cabinet.

Two leaders of organizations that advocated for Amendment 4 — Marc Mauer at the Sentencing Project and Howard Simon at the ACLU of Florida — wrote a memo in February that estimates how many felons could regain the right to vote. Their conclusion: as many as 1.4 million.

Here’s how they arrived at the figure: They started with the total Florida disenfranchised population, which they estimated was about 1.7 million.

Then they subtracted felons who are not eligible, including those convicted of murder or felony sex crimes, those in prison or in jail, under probation or supervision or who have not paid fees, fines or victim restitution. That ultimately leaves a group of about 1.4 million.

However, there are some factors that could bring that number lower, including many felons who have not paid restitution, fines or fees.

In Florida, a 2007 analysis by the Department of Corrections found that of 80,000 people awaiting rights restoration, nearly 40 percent had not completed restitution payments, the ACLU and the Sentencing Project found. Failure to pay restitution would make them ineligible to vote. And if we apply the 40 percent level of nonpayment, that could reduce the eligible population from 1.4 million to about 840,000.

Many news outlets have cited the 1.4 million figure. We asked some state officials questions about the figure and did not receive any replies that disputed it.

Census populations

Galloway’s tweet said the number of felons who can regain the right to vote is larger than the population of 10 states that ranged from about 579,000 (Wyoming) to 1.3 million (Maine and New Hampshire).

If we use the estimate of 1.4 million Florida felons now eligible to vote, then Galloway’s tweet is correct. If we assume that the number of eligible felons is lower due to nonpayment of fines — around 840,000 — then six states on this list have a higher population.

Our ruling

Galloway tweeted that "the number of people who just got their voting rights restored in Florida is greater than the populations of Wyoming, Vermont, Alaska, North Dakota, South Dakota, Delaware, Rhode Island, Montana, Maine and New Hampshire."

Galloway’s tweet generally seems on point, though it could be that the ultimate number of eligible felons is a lower number than some of the states’ populations he cited.

We rate this claim Mostly True.

Read more rulings at PolitiFact.com.

Census population estimates, July 1, 2017

Wyoming579,315
Vermont623,657
Alaska739,795
North Dakota755,393
South Dakota869,666
Delaware961,939
Rhode Island1,059,639
Montana1,050,493
Maine1,335,907
New Hampshire1,342,795

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