ORLANDO, Fla. — As the deadline nears to register for the presidential primary in Florida, political science experts say minority voters stand to make a big impact.
- Fight over Amendment 4 could keep many from voting in primaries
- The deadline to register to vote is fast-approaching
- Amendment 4 restores felons' voting rights after restitution
But a fight over Amendment 4 could keep many minority voters from voting in the primaries.
Florida Rights and Restoration Coalition President Desmond Meade has been traveling the state continuing the fight for felons to get back the right to vote.
“We accomplished what we wanted to accomplish and that was to tear down a 150 year old Jim Crow law, that permanently disenfranchised American citizens,” Meade said.
According to UCF political science professor Aubrey Jewett, a large number of minority voters are impacted by Amendment 4.
“If you look at the population of felons... then you see that minorities are overrepresented according to their population percentage,” Jewett said.
Jewett says Florida could see a lot more minority voters participate because of it. He says minority voters made up around 50 percent of Democratic voters in 2016’s primary election.
“If we implement Amendment 4 in a way that makes it easy to register and vote, it means that probably a lot more black and Hispanic people will be allowed to vote than currently are,” Jewett said.
But that's if it’s made easy for felons to register. Amendment 4 is tied up in a court battle right now over whether felons will have to pay all fines and fees associated with their sentences before they can register to vote.
And Orange County Elections Supervisor Bill Cowles says even when that issue is resolved, the state will need to create a database of eligible felons.
“And at that point and only that point can the state start to compare the potential voter status to clear them so they can register to vote,” Cowles said.
Both Jewett and Cowles say it’s unlikely this issue will be resolved by the registration deadline for the presidential preference primary next week.
But Meade says there’s still plenty of time before the general election.
“That’s OK, because they’ll be able to be registered in time for the general election, and that’s where it matters the most,” Meade said.
But Jewett says he thinks resolving the fees and fines issue before the general election registration deadline in October is still unlikely.
“From my neutral political science perspective, looking back at the history, and the recent current events, and if I had to bet, this is not really going to be too settled by October,” Jewett said.
Meade says as an alternative, they’re working with local state attorneys to convert some restitution fees of felons into community service so they can still be eligible to vote.