Why Restoring Voting Rights Matters for Florida’s Latinos

Next week, Floridians have a chance to engage in a uniquely democratic act — and not just by casting a ballot in Tuesday’s election. In Florida, they can do something more — they can vote for voting.

Thanks to a movement led by affected citizens, Floridians will vote on Amendment 4 — the Voting Restoration Amendment. If it passes, Amendment 4 will restore the eligibility to vote to 1.4 million Floridians with felony convictions in their past, who are currently barred for life from voting. This amendment, and what it means for democracy, should have particular significance for the Latino community — but perhaps not for the reasons you may think.

It’s tempting to think about Amendment 4 in partisan terms. These days, commentators are quick to speculate on whether voting laws will benefit Democrats or Republicans. But Latino voters are not monolithic — especially not in Florida, where 6 in ten registered Latino voters are Republican or unaffiliated. It’s difficult to say what effect Amendment 4 might have on party politics in the Latino community.

It is also natural to question the racial implications of tying voting to the criminal justice system. And, to be sure, research shows disparities in how Latinos fare in Florida’s system. But that’s a complicated story as well, both because of the racial diversity of the Latino population and because for many years, Latinos were simply not counted in criminal justice data. As far as Florida and many other states were concerned, people in prison were either white or black, making it almost impossible to tell how many of the 1.4 million people that will be impacted by Amendment 4 are Latino.

It’s this exclusion from the conversation that’s really the point. Latinos in the US understand what it means to be marginalized, to be left out of the discussion. It is no secret that even as the Latino…

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