Fed. Judge Strikes Down Florida System for Felon Voting Rights

  • Fed. Judge Strikes Down Florida System for Felon Voting Rights

Fed. Judge Strikes Down Florida System for Felon Voting Rights

Jim Exline is elated over a federal court ruling that opened the door for former felons to regain the right to vote, and found Florida's restrictive process for restoring those rights unconstitutional.

Thursday night a federal judge ruled that voting is a "fundamental right" and felons in Florida can not be deprived of it under the current system. The Florida governor presides over this process in person: past year, political comedian Samantha Bee compiled a depressing montage of Scott denying people the right to vote to their faces.

John Tupps, a spokesman for Scott, defended the process and suggested an appeal is likely.

"Florida strips the right to vote from every man and woman who commits a felony", Walker wrote in his 43-page order.

After workers behind bars get out of prison, they have to wait at least five years before they can apply to Florida's Office of Executive Clemency to get their voting rights back.

The ruling came after state elections officials last month formally placed on the November ballot a proposed constitutional amendment that would lead to automatic restoration of rights for ex-felons, though the amendment would not apply to murderers and sex offenders. Three years later, he sought the restoration of his voting rights. Scott made a joke and then promptly restored Warner's voting rights.

Florida now disenfranchises a higher portion of its population than any other state, with 10% of all adults and 21% of African-Americans barred from voting due to a felony conviction.

Florida's system defies the Constitution "because it risks - if not covertly authorizes the practice of - arbitrary and discriminatory vote-restoration".

Florida is one of only a handful of states that does not allow felons to get their rights restored after they complete their sentences. Governor Scott has argued that the restoration of voting rights of former felons can only occur on the state's terms and is within the "interest of the state to limit the franchise to responsible voters" and to "gauge the progress and rehabilitation" of former felons. But this case was different in that looked at the way the clemency process actually operates.

The judge said there were other examples where applicants "invoked their conservative beliefs and values to their benefit". As a result, there are over 10,000 felons waiting to have their case heard, with people routinely waiting over a decade for their chance in front of the governor.

He added, "If any one of these citizens wishes to earn back their fundamental right to vote, they must plod through a gauntlet of constitutionally infirm hurdles. No more", wrote Walker.

But under the Executive Clemency Board system, which Scott implemented upon taking office, only 3,000 applications have been granted in eight years.

More than 20 percent of Florida's black voting-age population can't vote, according to figures from the nonpartisan Sentencing Project cited by the judge.

Importantly, the ruling does not automatically restore voting rights to the state's ex-felons. About six million felons across the country can not vote, and a fourth of them, or about 1.5 million, are in Florida. (Scott is expected to run for U.S. Senate against Senator Bill Nelson.) The decision comes days after voting rights groups successfully placed an amendment on the 2018 ballot to restore rights to all ex-felons, except those convicted of violent crimes. State officials approved the measure last week after a grass-roots campaign collected 799,000 valid signatures from voters, as the Miami Herald reported.