Murder and sex crimes.
These are the two exceptions under which felons in Florida will be denied the right to vote. If Amendment 4 passes in the November elections, it will otherwise grant voting rights to all felons, who under current Florida laws are stripped of their voting rights after conviction. Murder and sex crimes at first glance seem like two reasonable exceptions. After all, we think of these two types of offenses as more heinous and reprehensible than other crimes.
Although the thought of sharing a cab ride with a violent felon or sex offender may make you uncomfortable, we ask you to consider how vital voting rights are — whether we should deny that critical right no matter how long an offender has been reformed and no matter how productive they are.
We support Amendment 4. But we must also think critically about those who Amendment 4 leaves behind.
The amendment is a promise to those who made serious errors in judgment. It is about second chances. Redemption. Reintegration into the community. The amendment is about getting these ex-criminals to be civically engaged, participating in government and making up for lost time. For those convicted of robbery, burglary, assault, corruption, drug possession or distribution, the amendment serves as a life preserver thrown from shore — a statement that we believe in their ability to make good choices both in candidates and in life.
But for those convicted of murder or sex crimes, the amendment is a shut door.
Amendment 4 is a statement to those felons that their crimes were so egregious that they cannot return to full citizenship. They will not be rehabilitated. It tells them that their lapse in judgment was so disgraceful, repugnant and unforgivable that even voting for elected office is a privilege too high for them.
Why is this is an ill-advised message to send to some felons and not others? Because the recidivism rate, the rate at which offenders commit other crimes after being released, is drastically lower for those who have their voting rights restored. The reoffense rate drops by about 30 percent for those who have been given their voting rights back after being released, according to studies from the Governor’s Board of Executive Clemency, which is currently the body that restores voting rights. After November, when Amendment 4 hopefully passes, the recidivism rate will likely drop for those convicted of non-violent offenses. For those convicted of murder and sex offenses, it will not. Keeping these felons from voting does not make Florida a safer state.
We should not keep needlessly punishing criminals after they serve jail time. If we expect all felons to shoulder the burdens of full citizenship, we should grant all felons their rights accordingly.