EDITORIAL: Voters, be informed of constitutional amendments

Over the next few weeks South Floridians will be bombarded by advertisement encouraging them to vote for candidates seeking election to one or another public office on November 6. But while there’s tremendous interest in most of these races, the November 6 ballot will also include several other issues for voters to vote on.

In addition to issues to be voted on in respective counties  and cities, for example Miami voters asked to vote yes or no on the property to build David Beckham’s Major League Soccer stadium, they’ll be required to vote on 12 Florida constitutional amendments. With this record number of amendments voters must be prepared for unusually long ballots when they turn up to vote.

It’s understandable most voters will be interested in voting for races, like governor, US senate, and US congress, at the top of the ballot, but they must also pay attention to the respective ballot questions and constitutional amendments towards the bottom of the ballot.

It’s a pity that most ballot questions, and constitutional amendments don’t receive the publicity given to the top-of-the ticket races. None of the 12 amendments are as popular or critical as the amendment voters approved to legalize medical marijuana in 2016. Nonetheless, there are several amendments which voters are urged to pay serious attention to and consider how they should vote.

For a constitutional amendment to be approved it’s  required that 60 percent of Florida voters vote yes.

One of the more important amendments is Amendment 4: the Voting Restoration Amendment, which is essential seeking voter’s approval to restore voting rights to people who were formerly convicted of felonious crimes, and are now free.

The amendment poses that if a felon has served his/her time, with the exception of those who committed crimes like murder or sex offenses, there voting rights should be restored.

Florida, Kentucky and Iowa are the only states where anyone who has committed a felony is automatically banned from voting. Despite the efforts of advocates for the past seven years, Florida  requires former felons wait at least five years after their sentences are completed to apply to regain voting rights. But, this does not guarantee an ex-felon will have his/her voting rights restored.

Under the Rick Scott administration, a request for the restoration of voting rights must be approved by the state clemency board consisting of the Governor’s appointees. The clemency board only meets four time annually, therefore with an estimated 1.5 million felons in Florida, the process of being approved could take years.

The African and Caribbean American community should be very sensitive to this amendment. It’s estimated 21 percent of Florida’s 1.5 million ex-felons are black. Advocates for restoring voting rights to black ex-felons have argued that the reason why the state government have not relented is political, as black voters are more inclined to vote for Democrats. However, the imposition on voting rights also affect a large number other ex-felons, so race isn’t the outstanding issue in this matter.

Ex-felons, of all races, after paying the penalty of depressing incarceration for their crimes are not only ostracized by society in finding decent jobs.  They cannot be involved in the decisions of the governments of the city or county they reside in, or the composition of Florida’s government.

There’s really no justifiable reason for imposing a long-term deterrent on one’s right to vote after one has fully paid the price for the crime one committed and has been set free.

The approval of Amendment 4 is supported by Andrew Gillum, Democrat candidate for Florida governor. It’s not yet known what’s the stance of Republican candidate Rick DeSantis, since his campaign has not adapted a position either way.

Like the earlier medical marijuana amendment, there are strong campaigns for and against Amendment 4. Those against it argue “bad people are always bad people” and should continue being punished with denial of their voting rights, and not giving a blanket amnesty to all ex-felons. Supporters of the amendment argue these ex-felons have paid their due to society, and it’s morally right to restore their voting rights.

It’s no easy task getting 60 percent of voters to approve any issue on a state ballot. It’s important that voters endeavor to understand the arguments for and against Amendment 4, and the other 11 constitutional amendments on the November 6 ballot.

Some of the other amendments affect homeowner’s property taxes, and the right given to state legislators to raise future taxes. It’s extremely important that voters go to the polls informed on these amendments. They can contact their respective county supervisor of elections for information pertaining to these constitutional amendments.


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