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In Florida, Amendment 4 restores more than a right to vote

More than 60 percent of voters in Florida chose on Election Day to restore voting rights to 1.5 million people with prior felonies, amending state policy enforced during the 19th century and upheld until Tuesday. Myrna Perez, who leads the Brennan Center’s Voting Rights and Election Project at New York University joins Hari Sreenivasan to talk about what this means for them and the country.

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  • HARI SREENIVASAN:

    In the lead up to the election PBS Newshour weekends Ivette Feliciano visited the state of Florida where one of the key issues on the ballot was not over leadership in the state but whether or not some one and a half million people with prior felonies would be given the right to vote. People like Neil Volz a member of the Florida rights restoration coalition who lobbied to have their voting rights restored.

  • NEIL VOLZ:

    We come from a place of understanding these issues personally.

  • IVETTE FELICIANO:

    Neil Volz the group's political director is a former Republican congressional staffer and lobbyist. In 2006 he pleaded guilty in a congressional bribery case and received a felony conviction for conspiracy.

  • NEIL VOLZ:

    We fight the good fight on behalf of the million plus family members and friends and directly impact the people of the state of Florida who know firsthand what it's like to walk around with a felony conviction and try and get a job or try and get housing or any of the collateral consequences that ultimately come along with a sentence like that.

  • IVETTE FELICIANO:

    What would it mean to have your voting rights restored.

  • NEIL VOLZ:

    I mean for me it would be the ability to be a full citizen in my community.

  • HARI SREENIVASAN:

    That initiative which was Amendment 4 passed overwhelmingly on Election Day Myrna Perez is deputy director of the Brennan Center's Democracy Program at NYU and leader of the center's Voting Rights and Elections Project she joins me here in the studio. Let's talk a little bit about what happened in the midterms. We've had a few days to digest this kind of seems like it's depending on who you are you think about increasing access or you think about voter suppression.Right. Depends on how you talk about it. So let's talk in a couple of different categories. First North Carolina and Arkansas approved voter ID requirements. What does that mean.

  • MYRNA PEREZ:

    North Carolina and Arkansas are two states where the political forces in those states have for years for years have been trying to push really really regressive and restrictive photo ID laws. And while those two laws passed I'm heartened by a couple of things. One in both of those states the numbers that passed were well below 88 to 92 percent which to me means that Americans who would be unaffected by these laws Americans who have this kind of identification still voted on behalf of their neighbors and their citizens who don't. Also both of those laws allow for opportunities to lobby the legislature to make sure that the legislature and enacts ID requirements exemption requirements and other policies that may blunt the law.

  • HARI SREENIVASAN:

    Let's talk also about the ripple effects of what happened in Florida. I mean this was an enormous state a huge population with prior criminal families. Is there a possibility that other states are going to model themselves after this?

  • MYRNA PEREZ:

    So now we only have Kentucky in Iowa if you want to count Virginia because Virginia's constitution allows for permanent disenfranchisement. You can bet right now Iowa and Kentucky are the only states remaining that say it doesn't matter what you did it doesn't matter how long ago it was when you did it it doesn't matter how old you were. If you have a felony conviction you lose your right to vote forever unless the government specifically decides to pardon you. And I think what Florida demonstrates is that. We are a country that believes in not writing people off. If someone is living and working amongst us and has obligations and responsibilities they should also have the ability to decide the direction that our country is going. And it's been super super exciting to see people from all walks of life come together and vote for Florida's Amendment. And I very much believe that the people in Iowa and Kentucky share the same sentiment.

  • HARI SREENIVASAN:

    We'll talk about a couple of other states Nevada and Michigan. Automatic voter registration. How significant is that? What does it do?

  • MYRNA PEREZ:

    It's very exciting. Automatic voter registration means that when somebody is attempting to register to vote the presumption is that if they're eligible they're going to be registered to vote.

  • HARI SREENIVASAN:

    You have to opt out.

  • MYRNA PEREZ:

    You have to opt out. That's exactly right. And also that the information is going to be electronically transferred to the election office rather than having to mess with pieces of paper that then someone has to go in and enter. It's a really exciting measure because it's got something for everybody if you're someone that wants access and wants more people participating. Well it's opt out. Right. You're going to be registered unless you say that you don't. If you're a person that wants your government to work more efficiently you're not going to be messing with all these pens and papers and data entry if you're someone that wants the rolls to be cleaner then the fact that it's a computer transferring information in one place to another place and not someone that has to decipher someone's chicken scratch on a voter registration form you're going to get cleaner rolls.

  • HARI SREENIVASAN:

    All right. Myrna Perez of the Brennan Center, thanks so much.

  • MYRNA PEREZ:

    Thank you.

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