This summer I used the Social Science Scholars funding to begin my honors thesis studying the impact of Amendment 4 on Black Voting Attitudes in Florida. I began my thesis at the end of the spring semester when I first met with my thesis director- Dr. Carol Weissert. From this initial meeting, we devised a summer plan for me to conduct background research on the organizations working to register voters in the Leon County area. From this background research, I pinpointed a specific organizations to interview to gain greater insights into how Amendment 4 impacted the work that they did. From there, I formulated research questions to be distributed by phone through a survey research center. I will supplement this with a convenience sample interview with respondents selected from a voter registration database. I hope to begin distributing the survey next month, with the interviews to be conducted after survey results are collected.
Through my research experience, I interviewed Bob Rackleff, the founder of the Big Bend Voting Rights Project. In this interview, he shared his organization’s efforts to register as many felons to vote before the 2020 election. While there are various outstanding cases being heard concerning the legality of Amendment 4, his organization saw no need to wait until the court cases were closed and potentially risk not register voters who could participate in the next voting cycle. With a goal of registering 15 people each week, the Big Bend Voting Rights project canvasses homes in targeted precincts. As a result of the meeting I had with Bob Rackleff, I have begun working with his organization to register voters in those precincts with a high number of eligible voters with a low number of those actually registered. By volunteering with the Big Bend Voting Rights Project I have made it easier to find subjects to interview. The organization keeps a registry of the people they registered and their contact information, and this will be a great resource for interviews. I can understand what hesitations they may have had to become registered, and if Amendment 4 impacted their decision to register with the Big Bend Voting Rights Project. From this experience, I hope to understand how removing barriers to voting will help foster political participation within the black community, and potentially use Florida as a model for other states facing felony disenfranchisement.
The Social Science Scholars program has given me an opportunity as an undergraduate to release my own survey on a statewide level. As someone whose father recently was given the right to vote because of Amendment 4, having the opportunity to study its impact on the black community further is an enormous privilege. Helping him become more politically active has meant giving him his voice back, and being able to understand how Amendment 4 could empower larger groups of people is an extension of that. Because of the Social Science Scholars program, I have been given the tools to study a complex issue, and study it in a way that will empower my community. If a connection can be found between Amendment 4 and attitudes towards voting, a path for increasing black political participation as a whole can be found.
Jalicia Lewis is a Senior from Jacksonville, Florida. She is a Political Science and Public Relations double-major.