Mark C. Rom: A Fair Vote

MARK C. ROM: On November 6, the citizens of Florida enacted Amendment 4, which automatically grants the right to vote to most convicted felons who have served their terms. This means that about 1.5 million Floridians, who previously had been disenfranchised, will be eligible to vote in future elections. This includes about 400,000 African Americans, or not quite 1-in-5 black adults in the state.

This is a remarkable vote for fairness.

Prior to the election, convicted felons in Florida had to petition the governor to regain the right to vote. In the eight years between 2010 and 2018 that Republican Rick Scott held that office, only about 3,500 felons had their voting rights restored.

This extension of the franchise is remarkable in a couple of ways.

First, Florida is the quintessential swing state. Donald Trump defeated Hilary Clinton by 1.2 percentage points. Barack Obama beat Mitt Romney by less than one percent. George W. Bush edged Al Gore by 537 votes.

In this week’s election, the races for both Governor and Senator are subject to recounts, with the Republican candidates (Ron DeSantis and Rick Scott, respectively) leading their Democrat opponents (Andrew Gillum and Bill Nelson) by less than 0.5 percentage points. Florida has 27 members of the House of Representatives: after Tuesday, 14 will be Republicans and 13 will be Democrats. No state is swingier.

Given that Republicans favor tighter voting restrictions, and Democrats more expansive rules, we might have predicted that the contest over Amendment 4 would

also be closely fought, with each side seeking partisan advantage while demonizing their opponents.

But it was not. Amendment 4 was approved in a landslide, by a nearly 2-to-1 margin. If a hypothetical election were held between Amendment 4 and either major party candidate for Governor or Senator, the amendment would have won by nearly one million votes.

We do not know how the re-enfranchising of felons will affect the outcome of the 2020 elections. As always in politics, it depends on who actually turns out on election day. Perhaps those voting for it believed that their party would benefit in the coming years.

Or maybe, just maybe, the citizens of Florida voted to grant the right to convicted felons because they believed that it was the fair thing to do. One can hope.


Mark C. Rom is a professor at Georgetown University. He has served as a legislative assistant for the Honorable John Paul Hammerschmidt of the US House of Representatives, as a research fellow at the Brookings Institution, as a senior evaluator at the US General Accounting Office, and as a Robert Wood Johnson Scholar in Health Policy Research at the University of California, Berkeley. Mark studies American politics and public policy, especially social welfare policy, including health, education, and welfare. His dissertation, The Thrift Tragedy: Are Politicians and Bureaucrats to Blame?, was the co-winner of the 1993 Harold Lasswell Award from the American Political Science Association as the best dissertation in the public policy field.

Max Magid