Please ensure Javascript is enabled for purposes of website accessibility

Lesson Plans

How felony convictions affect voting rights

May 18, 2020


Full Lesson


This lesson is part of our Searching for Justice series on criminal justice reform.

Directions: Read the news summary, watch the video and answer the discussion questions. The video has been edited for length. To watch the video in its entirety or read the transcript, click here.


In Florida, people with felony records are fighting to regain their voting rights. But the coronavirus has made that struggle more difficult. 

  • Florida voters passed an amendment to the Florida Constitution in a 2018 ballot initiative to restore voting rights to many categories of people with felony convictions in the state.
  • More than 1.4 million people with felony convictions, or “returning citizens,” became eligible to vote in Florida in January 2019.
  • Also in 2019, Florida passed a law that made paying off fines and fees a new requirement for returning citizens. Voting rights advocates are suing over that law, and now COVID-19 has made restoration of rights more difficult for many with felony records.

Discussion questions:

  1. Essential question: How does voter suppression for people with felony convictions affect civil rights?
  2. Why do voting rights advocates believe fines and fees are an undue burden on voters with felony convictions? 
  3. What extra burdens does COVID-19 impose on citizens seeking to restore their voting rights? What are some specific examples of difficulties for returning citizens?
  4. In some states, citizens convicted of felonies permanently lose the right to vote. Others, like Florida, restrict voting based on the type of conviction. What restrictions do you believe are fair? Do you believe anyone else currently restricted from voting should be allowed to vote in national or local elections?
  5. Media literacy: In this video clip we hear from a voting rights advocate who is himself a “returning citizen.” What does this term mean? Should the news media use the term “returning citizen”? Who else might you want to hear from to better understand the issue of Florida’s Amendment 4 and voting rights?

Extension activities:

1. Take a look at NewsHour Classroom current events lesson: How COVID disproportionately affects people of color

2. Watch NewsHour’s Voter Suppression and the impact of COVID-19 on people of color (transcript) featuring Rev. William J. Barber who has long tackled the issues of race, poverty and hatred. His Poor People’s Campaign in June will hold a digital assembly and march on Washington to draw attention to civil rights issues. In this video clip, Barber shares some of his concerns about the ways COVID-19 disproportionately impacts people of color and may impact voting access this fall. 

Ask your students:

How might a crisis like COVID-19 deepen unequal access to the law and civil rights such as the right to vote?