MIAMI – Raphael White was released from a Florida prison last year after serving time for burglary and armed robbery. But as a convicted felon, he can’t vote in this year’s presidential election or even the next.
According to The Sentencing Project, Florida ranks first in the Top 10 states that had the highest percentage of disenfranchised felons. More than 1.5 million people in Florida were unable to vote because of a felony conviction, which is more than 10 percent of the entire state population.
Florida is considered to have the strictest laws because anyone convicted of a felony, violent or nonviolent, must apply for the governor’s clemency after at least a five-year waiting period. Florida also has a large racial disparity among the incarcerated – the imprisonment rate for blacks is nearly four times that of whites.
But even if he could vote, White said most of the people in his Liberty City neighborhood have “bigger problems” than politics – like poverty, income insecurity and crime. Liberty City is historically one of the poorest and most violent neighborhoods in Miami.
“A lot of people here don’t vote because there is no one around to give out the information,” White said. “We need people here to be the good influence first, but all the men are incarcerated.”
White, 34, found a job as a construction worker, married his childhood sweetheart and, recently became a father. He wants to buy a home but can’t yet afford it.
“It will probably take me a few years to save up the money for a down payment,” he said.
The typical home in Liberty City’s real estate market is in poor condition and getting a bank to finance dilapidated property poses risks for the banks. So homeownership rates in the area are generally low – about 29 percent, according to U.S. Census numbers. The numbers are even lower in Liberty City and Miami’s historically black neighborhoods like Overtown and Little Haiti.
For White, the key issue is empowerment.
According to a report released in February from the Economic Innovation Group, the gap between the richest and the poorest parts of Miami-Dade County has only expanded since 2008. White is forced to go back to Liberty City, where it’s affordable, and live off of housing assistance from the Department of Housing and Urban Development.
“I’m doing a lot better,” White said. “But I still feel like I’m stuck.”
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