Voting Rights Amendment Could Transform Florida Electorate

Amendment 4 would give more than 1.4 million convicted felons in Florida the right to vote, as long as they are no longer in custody or on probation and were not convicted of murder or sex crimes.

Angel Sanchez is one of those people. He was a teenaged gang member on the path to prison.

Now he’s a college honors graduate, recipient of a prestigious scholarship and a University of Miami law student.

He was sentenced to 30 years in prison at age 17, but turned his life around – writing legal motions that led to a sentence reduction and ultimately release.

But he’s still a marked man, in a way – as a felon unable to vote.

"The short of it is I lost my voting eligibility for life before I ever had an opportunity to ever to vote,” he told NBC 6 during a break in his studies at UM. “Come every election, as much as I could forget about the fact that I’m disenfranchised, on Election Day I’m reminded, Angel you don’t count."

The amendment would need 60 percent support to be added to Florida’s Constitution – and not everyone is in favor.

"The amendment goes too far, in my opinion," said Ashley Moody, the Republican nominee for state attorney general. "Aggravated battery or kidnapping, terrorism -- none of these things would require a specific case-by-case determination, whether or not rights should be restored. They’d automatically be restored. I think that process, automatic restoration, should be for nonviolent, less serious violent offenses."

The governor and cabinet act as a clemency board, but the process is slow and the waiting list long. Only about 3,000 people have had their rights restored in recent years.

Disproportionately affected: minorities, especially African-Americans.

"As much as it is a vestige of the Jim Crow era today it’s not (just) impacting African Americans," said Sanchez, "but it’s starting to impact people across the board."

He says the change would benefit everyone. “Individuals who are restored are two to three time less likely to re-offend. That’s good for our communities.”

Sanchez, the law student, would still need to persuade the Florida Bar that he is worthy of becoming a lawyer, but first he needs his civil rights restored and Amendment 4 would be one big step in that direction.

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