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Amy Sherman
By Amy Sherman April 8, 2019

Have more Florida felons registered as Republicans since Amendment 4 took effect?

As President Donald Trump builds the Republican Party’s coalition before the 2020 election, his son-in-law Jared Kushner tossed out a surprising statistic about a group of people who he said leans right: felons in Florida.

"In Florida they passed a law where former felons can now vote. We've had more ex-felons register as Republicans than Democrats," Kushner told Laura Ingraham on Fox News April 1.

Ingraham interjected: "Wait, whoa, whoa. You've had more felons, ex-felons register as Republicans than Democrats?"

Kushner replied: "That's the data that I've seen. I think that will surprise a lot of people when they see the new coalition that President Trump is building for what the Republican Party has the potential to be."

So are former felons rushing to join Trump’s party in Florida?

We found no statewide data to support Kushner’s conclusion that more ex-felons have registered as Republicans since a new law took effect. At this point in time, his comment isn’t more than wishful thinking.

We contacted the White House to ask for Kushner’s data and did not get a reply.

Amendment 4 allows felons to vote

In November, voters approved Amendment 4, which restored voting rights of Floridians with felony convictions after they complete their sentence. It does not apply to those convicted of murder or sexual offenses.

The Legislature has been debating how to define what it means to complete sentences, while advocates say it requires no further legislation.

Regardless of that battle, Amendment 4 took effect Jan. 8, and some ex-felons have registered to vote.

We interviewed election officials and professors who study voting, as well as advocates for Amendment 4. No one could point to any statewide data showing the partisan breakdown of newly registered ex-felons.

Florida’s voter registration application asks applicants to check a box stating: "I affirm that I am not a convicted felon, or if I am, my right to vote has been restored." But on the form there is no way to separate those whose rights have been restored from those who were never felons.

A spokeswoman for the Florida Division of Elections told us that it doesn’t have partisan voter registration data for ex-felons.

That leaves us with anecdotal reports that may not be statistically representative.

University of Florida professor Daniel A. Smith said that he and his students identified 61 Floridians who identified themselves in media reports in January as "returning citizens" -- felons who had regained the right to vote. They were able to find 39 who made it on to Florida’s voter registration list by Feb. 1.

He warned that it wasn’t a representative sample, but here’s what they found: Of those 39 individuals, 25 are Democrats, 10 are no party affiliation, and four are Republicans.

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A few of the experts we interviewed wondered if Kushner was referring to an NBC report in February about felon voter registration.

A graphic in that report was titled "Florida former felon voting" and said "new registrations, top 10 counties." The story said: "Between December and January, Democrats saw a net gain of 711 new registrations in the 10 largest counties in Florida. Republicans actually saw a slightly larger gain in that time in those counties, an increase of 717 registrations."

So that graphic showed the GOP had a 6-voter registration edge. However,  the data appears to reflect all registrations in 10 counties, not just felons.

Past research on felons and party affiliation

Although there are racial disparities in the criminal justice system, and the majority of black voters are Democrats, in sheer numbers more whites could regain the right to vote in Florida.

The national Sentencing Project found in 2016 that of the 1.5 million ex-felons in Florida who could not vote, about 28 percent were black. Of the 72 percent who were not black, most were white, and a modest number were Latinos.

Michael Morse, a JD candidate at Yale Law School and a PhD candidate in Harvard’s department of government, said he plans to analyze voter registration and conviction data to determine the partisan makeup of the newly registered ex-felons.

"Although I’m working on it, it’s not possible to evaluate Kushner’s claim yet," he said.

Kushner’s claim depends largely on the racial breakdown of these early registrants, said Morse, who along with University of Pennsylvania professor Marc Meredith looked at the political behavior of the 150,000 ex-felons restored by Gov. Charlie Crist about a decade ago. They wrote about their findings in a November article for Vox.

They found that black ex-felons were extremely supportive of the Democratic Party, but all other ex-felons in the state were slightly more supportive of Republicans.

In total, they found about 19,500 ex-felons whose rights were restored under Crist voted in 2016 -- about 58 percent were registered Democrats (largely black), 24 percent were registered Republicans (largely nonblack) and the rest registered with neither party.

The researchers extrapolated that if all ex-felons could have voted in in 2016, Democrats would have gained a net of 48,000 votes. Trump won the state by more than double that margin.

"Clearly there is a preference for the Democratic party, but it’s not an immense preference, particularly in voting because of low turnout," among felons, he said.

However, the same partisan preferences may not apply to the Amendment 4 population, Morse said. Among all Crist ex-felons who had their rights automatically restored under Crist, 38 percent were black. Among all ex-felons in the state as estimated by the Sentencing Project, only 28 percent are black. Also, no one yet knows the outcome of the battle in the state Legislature about defining fines and fees that must be paid as part of completing their sentence before register to vote.

"In short, everything is up in the air," he said. "It’s not yet clear who will benefit from Amendment 4 and what the demographics of that population will be."

Our ruling

Kushner said Florida "passed a law where former felons can now vote. We've had more ex-felons register as Republicans than Democrats."

The state said it did not have data showing a partisan breakdown of ex-felons who registered to vote since Amendment 4 took effect Jan. 8.

Past research shows that black ex-felons heavily lean toward the Democratic Party while nonblack voters lean, but less heavily, to the Republican side, with many also choosing no party affiliation.

We rate statements based on available data, and so far there isn’t any to backup Kushner’s statement.

We rate this claim Mostly False.

Our Sources

Fox News, The Ingraham Angle, April 1, 2019

Meet the Press, Florida's ex-felon voting rules slow to impact registration, Feb. 24, 2019

Vox, Why letting ex-felons vote probably won’t swing Florida, Nov. 2, 2019

Orlando Sentinel, 1.4 million ex-felons get their voting rights back, but Democrats shouldn't count on them swinging Florida, Nov. 30, 2018

Florida Times Union, After change, thousands register in Duval, March 4, 2019

Politico, The political sway of Florida's 1.5M voting felons is up for grabs, experts say, Nov. 8, 2018

Tampa Bay Times The Buzz blog, Amendment 4 is already changing Tampa's electorate, here’s how:" Feb. 7, 2019

PolitiFact, Are the 'overwhelming majority of violent criminals' Democrats? Ted Cruz said so, Dec. 1, 2015

Interview, Daniel A. Smith, University of Florida political science professor, April 2019

Interview, Michael P. McDonald, University of Florida associate professor of political science, April 2019

Interview, Marc Mauer, Sentencing Project executive director, April 4, 2019

Interview, Michael Morse, a JD candidate at Yale Law School and a PhD candidate in Harvard’s department of government, April 5, 2019

Interview, Neil Volz, political director of the Florida Rights Restoration Coalition, April 4, 2019

Interview, Traci Burch, an associate political science professor at Northwestern University,, April 4, 2019

Interview, Sarah Revell, Florida Division of Elections spokeswoman, April 4, 2019

Interview, Paul Lux, Okaloosa Supervisor of Elections and the president of the Florida State Association of Supervisors of Elections, April 2, 2019

Interview, Suzy Trutie, Deputy Supervisor of Elections, Government Affairs and Media Relations, Miami-Dade County Elections Department, April 4, 2019

Interview, Steve Vancore, Broward Supervisor of Elections spokesman, April 4, 2019

Interview, Matthew McHugh, Hillsborough Supervisor of Elections spokesman, April 4, 2019

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