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Amendment 4: New report shows who’s out of prison and registering to vote

The Brennan Center analysis echoed Times findings on new voter demographics.

Amendment 4 led to 99 times as many formerly-incarcerated Floridians registering to vote as normal, and those new voters are more likely to be black and residents of lower-income neighborhoods than the rest of the electorate, according to a new analysis by the Brennan Center for Justice.

The amendment, which took effect Jan. 8, allows Floridians to register to vote once they finish serving a felony sentence.

Previously, becoming a felon meant forfeiting the right to vote, unless someone overcame long odds by successfully appealing to the state’s clemency board, made up of the Florida governor and three Cabinet members.

Now, a bill passed earlier this month by state lawmakers mandates that finishing a sentence means first paying off all court fines, fees and restitution (or seeking a waiver from a judge), and it awaits Gov. Ron DeSantis’s signature.

“There can be no mistaking the racial and class implications of this regressive new legislation,” researcher Kevin Morris wrote in the Brennan Center study, regarding Senate Bill 7066.

The center’s analysis examines a portion of people affected by Amendment 4 — specifically, those who had served time in prison — but does not look at whether those people owed fees, fines or restitution, the money that felons have to pay to the victims of their crimes.

No Florida agencies even track who owes restitution, so it’s difficult to determine how many will be prohibited from registering to vote because of the bill’s new requirement.

The Brennan Center — a law and policy institute at the New York University School of Law that focuses on voting rights, campaign finance reform and ending mass incarceration — focused on new voters who have been imprisoned and released.

According to the nonprofit, which examined records from the Florida Department of Corrections, there were more than 2,100 people who registered to vote from January through March who had been incarcerated. January alone saw more than 1,100 registrations by former prisoners.

The number of registrations was 99 times as many as in the same period in the last two non-election years (2015 and 2017). No month in the last decade had seen more than 106 formerly-incarcerated people register to vote.

New voters who had been incarcerated skew heavily black: 44 percent identified as black on their registration, compared to just 13 percent of all Florida voters.

The results echo work earlier this year by the Tampa Bay Times, which found that black men make up just 5.5 percent of Florida voters but 9.9 percent of voters registering after the amendment became law. Total registrations also spiked the highest in the state’s blackest counties.

In Tampa, Amendment 4’s voter registration effect was compounded by an open race for mayor. A Times analysis of new data shows 30 percent of Tampa residents who registered to vote in January were black, twice the rate of new registrations in 2018. About 60 percent of new black voters in the city were men.

The Brennan Center analysis did not look at all felons, only those who had been sent to prison — and even among those, only people released since 1992. Some felons serve only probation.

Using Census data, the Brennan Center analysis found that while the overall median neighborhood income for Florida voters is $60,000, the median neighborhood income for new voters who had been incarcerated was just $45,000.