Florida voters prove Americans can put ‘people over politics’

While political morass in Washington has our federal government shut down with no end in sight, something special and far different has been happening in Florida.

Florida citizens impacted by the recently passed Amendment 4 have been getting their voting rights restored as voter registration opened up throughout the state. Early reports showed people lining up at local election offices. Over 1 million Floridians with felony criminal records had their right to vote restored when voters approved amending the state constitution. It was the largest enfranchisement since the Voting Rights Act of 1965 and an immense step forward for criminal justice reform.

{mosads}Approval of Amendment 4 demonstrates the American people are willing to place basic fairness and humanity above politics, even when those in office might not be. Right now, this matters more than ever.

It has become easy to view the “other side” in partisan politics as evil. Democrats see Donald Trump embodied in their Republican friends and suddenly those friends become the stealers of children, wall builders, and the deniers of Dreamers. Our neighbors have become caricatures of politicians who are themselves caricatures of parties that have moved to opposite ideological extremes. We “unfollow” and “unfriend” each other on social media; we move away from each other; we hate. This is a frightening place to be.

Don’t get me wrong, there is real evil going on, such as family separations at our southern border and white supremacists marching in the streets. But if ordinary people can’t talk to their neighbors, can’t connect on the issues that unite us and — worst of all — don’t see the humanity in one another, that’s when, as history shows us, we risk acceding to doing terrible things to one another.

The recent midterm elections showed that our divisions seem to be getting worse. It’s difficult to imagine how we can reunite, but we do have common ground. As a wrestler, veteran, Princeton graduate and finance professional — all groups that tend to lean conservative — and yet a lifelong progressive Democrat, I’ve often had to find that common ground. We need to remember that people are not the same as their political party’s worst instincts, and that we do have common values that unite us.

Florida’s Amendment 4 is one story from the midterm elections that offers us hope. It’s a story of shared American values of fairness, redemption and human dignity overcoming our divisions and partisanship.

Amendments to Florida’s constitution require a staggering 60 percent vote. In a swing state that has been sliding from purple to red over the past 20 years, a state where victory rarely comes by more than a percentage point, that 60 percent requirement meant Amendment 4 couldn’t pass without bipartisan support. In the 2018 gubernatorial and senatorial elections in Florida, red and blue split almost down the middle, showing a state as divided as ever.

Yet 65 percent of voters — more than 5.1 million people — voted “yes” on Amendment 4. That was 1 million more votes than any candidate received, and a majority vote in 62 of the 67 counties of Florida.

Amendment 4 followed a decade of failed attempts by Florida’s political leadership to re-enfranchise these same voters through legislation. They failed because they couldn’t move beyond partisan politics.

There were attempts to make Amendment 4 a partisan issue, including endorsements for and against the initiative by the Democratic and Republican candidates for governor, and widely publicized claims that Amendment 4 could flip Florida for the Democrats.

These efforts failed because the campaign led by the Florida Rights Restoration Coalition remained true to its slogan: “People over politics.” The campaign was organized around our shared values — fairness, redemption and human dignity — and not partisan politics. This campaign was supported and funded by groups across the ideological spectrum, from the American Civil Liberties Union and the Alliance for Safety and Justice, to the Christian Coalition and the conservative advocacy group FreedomWorks.

Passage of this amendment demonstrates the American people don’t want to write off their fellow citizens who live with a past criminal conviction. There are over 70 million Americans with criminal records, and thousands of legal restrictions block them from civic engagement and participation in our economy. Let’s build on Florida’s success and come together to eliminate barriers for those who could contribute to our society.

What happened in Florida’s election should guide Americans in rediscovering our common values, and could become a model for other states to enact commonsense criminal justice reforms.

Michael E. Novogratz is the founder and CEO of Galaxy Digital, a New York City-based multi-strategy investment firm focused on digital assets and blockchain technology. Follow him on Twitter @novogratz.

Tags Criminal justice reform Donald Trump Felons voting rights Florida Amendment 4 partisan politics

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