The state of Florida has long held particularly strict regulations concerning the ability of individuals who have been convicted of a felony to vote. Florida was one of only four states to permanently block felons from voting unless they received approval from the governor. For a felon’s rights to be restored, they had to meet certain, sometimes very restrictive, requirements set by the current governor. These policies resulted in significant numbers of citizens, particularly black citizens, being excluded from civic participation. In 2018, the state legislature passed Amendment 4 to overcome these vast exclusions. Amendment 4 restores voting rights to felons in Florida in all cases except when the offender committed murder or a sexual offense. The passage of this amendment is estimated to have granted 1.4 million people the right to vote. This research contextualizes this amendment to build upon existing literature that explores the relationship between felon disenfranchisement and voter attitudes. In this thesis, the researcher assesses the impact of Amendment 4 on black voter attitudes in Florida and what those impacts are.
The primary data set in this thesis is comprised of telephone surveys and in-person interviews. The survey captures the responses of 1,000 Florida citizens of voting-age, and all races and ethnicities. The survey questions are designed to assess the respondent’s familiarity with Amendment 4, their perception of whether or not its implementation would lead to increased voter turnout and participation, and its influence on their own decision to vote. The survey responses are compared across racial demographics to see if black respondents are more likely to believe the implementation of Amendment 4 will result in a high voter turnout and participation. The relation between the awareness of Amendment 4 and the perception of whether it would impact the respondent’s own voting behavior is explored as well. The researcher conducts the in-person interviews with black participants located in Tallahassee only, to gather more in-depth responses about the impact Amendment 4 has on black voter attitudes.
The results of the survey suggest a significant relationship between race and perceptions about the influence of Amendment 4. The results highlight a difference in responses between white and black participants. Black respondents were more likely to feel that Amendment 4 would result in increased voter turnout and political participation. A total of 41.6% of black respondents thought it was very likely Amendment 4 would increase voter turnout and participation, as opposed to only 18.5% of white respondents; though the majority of both black and white voters felt Amendment 4 was at least somewhat likely to increase voter participation. A notable finding was that a personal connection with someone impacted by Amendment 4 could affect the respondent’s view on voter turnout. Those who knew someone affected by Amendment 4 felt voter turnout would increase. Both closeness to the issue and race are significant factors in the survey responses.
The link between personal connection and perception of the amendment is prominent in the in-person interviews. When asked if Amendment 4 encouraged respondents to vote, a majority of participants responded yes; however, a significant number felt Amendment 4 did not particularly encourage them to vote. Among other reasons, a sentiment often repeated was a lack of personal relationship with someone who was disenfranchised. The implementation of Amendment 4 can offer some the incentive to vote, but it is often supplemental to other issues. Based on the responses from the interviews, the most prevalent reason to vote is civic duty.
The development of Amendment 4 is still ongoing, but its impact on voters is visible. A million people who were denied representation now have the chance to let their political preferences and opinions be heard. Increasing awareness of Amendment 4 has the potential to mobilize voters who may not have participated in civic activities before.
Source for featured image: https://www.pexels.com/photo/i-voted-sticker-spool-on-white-surface-1550336/