There are many reasons for the 2016 election result. Ta-nehisi Coates’s essay, “America’s First White President,” is essential reading to understand how 2016 was possible. FiveThirtyEight, as usual, has a big list of stuff. America’s baked-in sexism and dedication to white supremacy, GOP redistricting, Russian kleptocrats, the prosperity gospel, Clinton’s team underestimating a group of 4chan trolls who’d sharpened their teeth on GamerGate — you can find almost anything with an large enough effect to swing a few hundred thousand votes and tip the election.
One common aspect among all the hot takes: most of these reasons are difficult to quantify. Sexism definitely had a negative impact on Hillary Clinton’s campaign, but translating that impact into a number of votes is pretty much impossible. For every extra thirty minutes waiting in line because half the polling places in your county were closed, how many people turn away and go home?
There is, however, one place in America where a single, quantifiable phenomena can turn the state from red to blue. Florida has a problem with voter disenfranchisement.
In Florida, 10% of adults cannot vote because of a prior felony conviction. Florida is one of three states in the US that strips the voting rights of anyone convicted of a felony permanently. Because our criminal justice system has a profound racial bias, this has an outsized impact on black and latino Floridians. One in four black men in Florida has lost his voting rights.
Donald Trump won white America, but lost spectacularly with black and latino voters. If Florida’s 1.5 million former felons, who are significantly more likely to be black or latino, were allowed to vote, would that change the outcome?
Using exit polls from CNN and prison statistics from The Sentencing Project, I crunched the numbers.
If these theoretical enfranchised voters showed up in numbers even vaguely similar to the turnout among the rest of Florida’s population, Clinton could have won Florida instead of losing it by more than a hundred thousand votes. I’m not a sociologist, and I only used data that was accessible via the internet; this projection is far from perfect. However, it’s an obvious, dramatic change caused by a single bad policy (tirelessly protected, of course, by Republicans).
In the 2016 election, Florida’s electoral college votes wouldn’t have been enough to change the overall result. But in 2000, when Al Gore was defeated by George W. Bush, Florida was the deciding factor. In 2000, the margin wasn’t a hundred thousand votes, it was five hundred.
There are a lot of reasons why we’re stuck in the flaming municipal waste disposal plant of 2017, but this is, undeniably, one of them.