In 1867, Congress passed the Reconstruction Act—forcing ex-Confederate states to adopt new constitutions with universal male suffrage to reenter the Union. In response, Florida lawmakers passed a new constitution with suffrage provisions for formerly enslaved individuals, but also found a way to subvert the intent of Congress by barring individuals convicted of felonies from being eligible to vote. The provision stated: “nor shall any person convicted of a felony be qualified to vote at any election unless restored to civil rights. The legislature shall have power and shall enact the necessary laws to exclude from… the right of suffrage, all persons convicted of bribery, perjury, larceny or of infamous crime.”
Involvement in the criminal justice system comes with an array of barriers and punitive measures, often unrelated to the original crime or the concept of justice. Many of these— such as stripping away the right to vote — were strategically designed to erode essential liberties and rights of marginalized racial groups. This policy illustrated one of the earliest means through which disenfranchisement could legally happen. Since having a felony record barred one from voting, crafting policies that over-criminalized Black Floridians yielded to greater rates of felony arrests among Black residents; thus, more Black people being stripped of their right to vote. More than 150 years later, spearheaded by justice-involved advocates across the state, most of the disenfranchisement policy was repealed when voters approved Amendment 4 in 2018. This amendment, approved by 64 percent of Florida voters, allows individuals with certain felony records to have their right to vote restored. However, in 2018, consistent with the behavior of the 1868 Constitutional Convention limiting franchise rights, the Florida Legislature passed SB 7066, which creates financial hurdles for many people seeking to reinstate their right to vote.