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What Voters Across The Country Said About Different Criminal Justice Ballot Measures


So voters yesterday were deciding on more than just candidates. In many states, criminal justice reforms were on the ballot - measures that would make considerable changes to policing, incarceration, voting rights and much more.

To talk about all those outcomes, we're joined by Nicole Lewis. She's a reporter for The Marshall Project, and she's been following the ballot measures closely. Welcome.

NICOLE LEWIS: Thanks for having me.

CHANG: So the measure that people seem to be talking about the most today is the ballot measure that Florida voters approved. This is the one that would restore voting rights to people with felony convictions, except when the convictions were for murder or for a sex crime. We're talking about potentially adding more than a million voters to the state rolls there.

LEWIS: That's right. It's about 1.4 million people who had been disenfranchised by Florida's lifetime ban on felons voting.

CHANG: And these are disproportionately black voters.

LEWIS: Yep, absolutely. There are - about 20 percent of black voters in the state were disenfranchised under this ban.

CHANG: So how might these new voters - this infusion - impact the political landscape in Florida?

LEWIS: So Florida has been an important state in national elections in the past several years. And so I think there are organizers there who are hoping that a wider swath of voters will have a bigger influence in those national elections.

It's difficult to say which way these newly re-enfranchised folks will vote - you know, whether they support Democrats or Republican candidates. Research actually shows that it's sort of mixed.

CHANG: All right, let's move down the Gulf a little bit to Louisiana, where voters were also considering a ballot measure to change the state's approach to felony convictions. What happened there?

LEWIS: So in Louisiana, they had a practice on the books that meant that felony convictions could happen with a split jury, so 10-2 or 11-1. And voters said, no, we're going to be like the rest of the country, with the exception of Oregon, and we're going to have unanimous juries for felony convictions.

CHANG: And this was a practice considered by many as kind of a carryover from Jim Crow era, right?

LEWIS: Absolutely. So after the passage of the 14th Amendment that extended voting rights and, therefore, the right to serve on juries to all people, you know, regardless of race, across the country, Louisiana legislatures moved to create the practice of allowing convictions for split juries. And so this was a move that they thought would effectively, you know, cement white political power within the state.

CHANG: Wow. So this was a long overdue change.

Now, policing was on the ballot in Washington state. The measure, which passed, will change the standard that courts use when they decide whether a police officer's use of force was proper. The older standard kind of floored me when I read it. I'm just going to have you explain. What was that older standard?

LEWIS: Right. So it meant that police officers had to show malice or, quote, unquote, "evil intent."

CHANG: Evil intent - how do you prove evil in a courtroom?

LEWIS: That is the question. And so this was a standard that many experts in the state said made it nearly impossible to indict and, therefore, convict a police officer who had killed someone, you know, while in the line of duty. So now the new standard is that officers will be shielded from criminal charges if they acted in good faith and in line with what a reasonable officer would do.

CHANG: So there's been so much bipartisan interest in criminal justice reforms, but it seems like there's been more traction in passing those reforms at the state level than at the federal level. Why is that?

LEWIS: So the majority of Americans who are behind bars - you know, it's about 2.2 million people - are incarcerated at the state level. And so states are facing a growing need to address their prison population and their jail population. And so within the state, people are able to get together and come up with changes that would help address, you know, the particular issue within their state.

CHANG: Nicole Lewis is a reporter for The Marshall Project. Thanks very much.

LEWIS: Thanks so much.

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