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HRDC Fact Sheet on Florida Amendment 4, Voting Rights

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Human Rights Defense Center

Not all ex-felons support Amendment 4!
This November, Florida citizens will be voting on a very important ballot initiative that will impact
nearly 1.5 million people in the state. The restoration of voting rights for people with prior felony
convictions is long overdue—but we must ask: why are some people still being left behind?
What is Amendment 4?
Amendment 4, also known as the Voting Restoration Amendment, i is a proposed constitutional
amendment in Florida. It would automatically restore the right to vote for people with prior felony
convictions, except those convicted of murder or a felony sex offense, upon completion of their
sentences—including prison, parole and/or probation. Amendment 4 will be up for a vote on
November 6, 2018.
What is voting disenfranchisement?
A person who is disenfranchised has been deprived of power or marginalized, often in a way related
to their civic participation. Voting disenfranchisement means the government has removed their legal
right to vote in elections. People who are currently in prison are almost always disenfranchised; Maine
and Vermont are the only states that currently allow prisoners to vote while incarcerated for felony
convictions. The restrictions on disenfranchisement for people released after serving their sentences
vary by jurisdiction, but in some states disenfranchisement is permanent and voting rights will never
be restored, regardless of the offense they committed. ii
So what’s the problem with Amendment 4?
The problem with Amendment 4 is that it perpetuates discrimination and bigotry against a sub-class of
former prisoners and convicted felons, namely those convicted of murder and sex offenses. All the talk
of Amendment 4 supporters about second chances, redemption, reintegration into the community, etc.
rings hollow and opportunistic when they made the decision to exclude murderers and sex offenders
from the franchise and to enshrine this form of discrimination into the state constitution. No other state
constitution, according to The Sentencing Project, singles out citizens by their conviction offense for
discrimination with respect to restoration of voting rights.
Around the country, organizations led by former prisoners have made “All of Us or None” a rallying
cry against this very type of discrimination. At a very base level, this is the type of law that pits one
poor and disenfranchised group against another. Amendment 4 pits people convicted of felonies that
are not murder or a sex offense against those with such convictions. It would grant rights to the former
at the expense of the latter.

Nowhere in the history of the American franchise has extending the right to vote been conditioned
on depriving another group of people their right to vote. When Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. sought
voting rights for Black Americans he did so for ALL Black Americans, not just some of them and,
more importantly, not at the expense of disenfranchising Latino Americans or Asian Americans, for
example. Most recently the struggle for marriage equality by the LGBTQ community did not seek
marriage rights for only some LGBTQ people; they sought it for everyone and not at the expense of
any other group. Thus, today a gay prisoner on death row can marry anyone of their choice, of any
gender. The LGBTQ community did not take the easy and opportunistic road of excluding any
members of their community, nor seek marriage equality at their expense.
The proponents of Amendment 4 are reportedly spending over $16 million to get the measure on the
ballot and to get voters to approve it in November. In some respects, the most important voting has
already taken place: by the people who decided to exclude murderers and sex offenders from having
the right to vote. No one can point to a single person convicted of murder or a sex offense who has
been released from prison, is a productive member of the community and is paying taxes who thinks
they should be disenfranchised and not allowed a political voice.
If Amendment 4 passes, it will enshrine bigotry and discrimination against convicted murderers and
sex offenders into the state constitution which will make enfranchising them effectively impossible,
as it is highly unlikely that such offenders will have their voting rights restored through the existing
arbitrary clemency process. No one is talking about spending millions more to get their voting rights
restored at some point in the future. More importantly, it will enable even greater discrimination
against those convicted of murder and sex offenses in areas such as housing, education, government
benefits, etc. by virtue of singling them out for disenfranchisement and thus discrimination.
Amendment 4 provides for restoration of voting rights for Florida citizens with felony convictions—
except those with murder or felony sexual offense convictions, even after completing their sentences
and fulfilling all prison, parole and probation terms. The Washington Economics Group lays out how
restoring the right to vote for people with felony convictions would bring a $365 million positive
annual economic impact, about 3,800 jobs per year, and an increase of $151 million to Florida’s
household income. However, just as Amendment 4 excludes people with murder and sex offences, so
too does the WEG’s findings. As of 2015, the most recent data from the Office of Public Policy and
Government Accountability found there were 26,845 sexual offenders living in Florida communities. iii
That means adding those 26,845 people, who have served their sentences for felony sex offenses,
would further increase the positive annual economic impact, increase the number of jobs per year
and increase the average Floridian household income, if they too could vote. iv
Yet neither the authors of Amendment 4 nor their proponents think sex offenders or murderers who
have been released from prison deserve a second chance or greater economic opportunity—despite the
fact that such offenders have some of the lowest recidivism rates. v
How many government officials have corruption-related convictions in Florida?
Meanwhile, as people with felony convictions are disenfranchised from voting, government officials in
Florida have their own corruption convictions and are still permitted to hold office. In fact, from 20032013 there were 622 federal public corruption convictions in Florida. vi Despite such convictions,
some of those officials are still able to hold office in state and federal government. Moreover, all these
corrupt officials, who sold out their offices and undermined the public’s trust, will be able to get their
voting rights restored should Amendment 4 pass.

Some of those government officials were likely elected through corrupt means in the first place, as
Florida ranks 46th out of the 50 states for electoral oversight. vii Overall, Florida scored a D- in
2015 from The Center for Public Integrity. viii Thus, while hundreds of corrupt public officials have
been convicted, there are tens of thousands of citizens in Florida who can’t vote due to their own
criminal convictions. Why should corrupt government officials be allowed restoration of their voting
rights under Amendment 4 when other Floridian citizens who have felony convictions for murder and
sex offenses—which have nothing to do with voting rights or public corruption—are excluded under
the same ballot initiative?
What restrictions do sex offenders have in Florida?
Even after serving their sentences in prison, on parole or on probation, sex offenders in Florida are
required to register for life. Overall, Florida has some of the most restrictive sex offender laws in the
United States. ix Failure to abide by sex offender registry laws can itself lead to a felony conviction.
Registry guidelines include registering in person with the police and reporting two to four times a year
for sex offenders and four times a year for sexual predators, providing extensive personal information
and notifying the police within 48 hours of a residency move. x Other restrictions include not being
allowed to live within 1,000 feet of a school, day care, park, playground or other places where children
congregate; in some jurisdictions the residency restriction is greater than 1,000 feet. The same goes for
employment and volunteering; thus, people with prior sex offense convictions cannot work near places
like schools, day cares, parks and other areas where employees or volunteers would be with children
(even if their offenses had nothing to do with kids). xi In addition to these restrictions and requirements,
sex offenders’ civil rights are stripped away permanently. Amendment 4 enshrines this discrimination
into the state constitution by ensuring that sex offenders remain disenfranchised—which likely will
make their already dismal situation even worse. And while some may point to the egregious nature of
their crimes, those offenses have nothing to do with voting. For both murderers and sex offenders, the
punishment of essentially lifetime disenfranchisement does not fit the crime.
Where does the Human Rights Defense Center Stand on Amendment 4?
While Amendment 4 is beneficial in that it restores voting rights to many convicted felons, we are
troubled by the specific exclusion of murderers and sex offenders, and enshrining such discrimination
against a class of former prisoners into the state constitution. For 28 years, HRDC has advocated on
behalf of all people negatively impacted by the criminal justice system, including sex offenders and
murderers. We have never pitted one impoverished, oppressed and vulnerable population against
another and, more importantly, we have never advocated for nor sought to advance the rights of any
person or constituency to the detriment or loss of rights of any other person or constituency. We want
liberty and justice for all, not just for some based on their convictions or other arbitrary designations.
We believe that betraying one part of our constituency or throwing them under the bus of political
expediency is morally and ethically wrong. Realistically, no one is going to spend money to once
again modify the state constitution to enfranchise murderers and sex offenders. We truly do believe
the slogan “All of Us or None” should and does apply in this situation. We also ask “What would
Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. do” in this situation? Would he support Amendment 4, which gives the
franchise to only some convicted felons—including corrupt government officials—while excluding
murderers and sex offenders? We don’t think he would. Accordingly, HRDC is not among the groups
pushing for Amendment 4, and we oppose this ballot initiative for the reasons cited above. We feel
that people who are able to vote should vote their conscience on this issue.

Paul Wright, the founder and executive director of HRDC and a honorably-discharged veteran, was
convicted of first-degree murder in Washington State in 1987. He founded HRDC while incarcerated
in 1990 and has continued to lead the organization since his release in 2003. He moved to Vermont
following his release from prison and voted regularly in elections there because Vermont does not
disenfranchise its citizens. His voting and other civil rights were restored by the courts in Washington
State, with the assistance of the Washington ACLU. To date, no one has been able to convince Mr.
Wright why he should not be able to vote or what his status as a convicted murderer has to do with
his voting rights. He is available for media interviews to discuss this issue.

P.O. Box 1151
Lake Worth, FL 33460
(561) 360-2523


Ballotpedia. Florida Amendment 4, Voting Rights Restoration for Felons Initiative. Ballotpedia. 2018.,_Voting_Rights_Restoration_for_Felons_Initiative_(2018)
Wood, E. “Florida: an Outlier in Denying Voting Rights.” Brennan Center for Justice.
Office of Program Policy Analysis & Government Accountability (OPPAGA). “Sex Offender Registration and Monitoring:
Statewide Requirements, Local Practices, and Monitoring Procedures.” The Florida Legislature. December 2015.
The Washington Economics Group, Inc. Economic Impacts of Restoring the Eligibility to Vote for Floridians with Felony
Convictions as a Result of Passage of Amendment 4. May 8, 2018.
Various studies have been done on recidivism rates based on type of offense; for example, see Table 2 in this report:
Wilcox & Stonecipher. Corruption Risk Report: Florida Ethics Law. Integrity Florida. January 2016.
The Center for Public Integrity. “Florida gets D- grade in 2015 State Integrity Investigation.” November 9, 2015.
ibid The Center for Public Integrity
Delgado & Romanik. “Do Florida Sex Offender Registry Requirements Go Too Far?” Community Law Firm.
Thomas & Paulk. “Florida’s Sex Offender Registry Requirements.” Tampa Criminal Attorneys. April 4, 2016.
ibid Delgado & Romanik.