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Restoring Felons’ Right to Vote:
Why I’m Voting Yes on Amendment 4

| November 2, 2018

Detail from Herman Nitsch's 'Flagellation Wall,' 1963.

Detail from Herman Nitsch’s ‘Flagellation Wall,’ 1963.

The first thing that should shock anyone with a conscience is that there are 1.7 million felons in Florida. In a population of 21 million, that represents 7 percent of the population. Take away the 4.2 million Floridians who are under 18, and one in every 10 Floridians is a felon. I realize we live in America’s most deranged state. But not even the Soviet Union during its Gulag years had a proportion of felons real or imagined this high.

pierre tristam column flaglerlive.com flaglerlive The second thing that should shock anyone with a conscience is that these 1.7 million felons can’t vote. Florida is one of only four states where felons never regain the right to vote unless a state board restores the right. It rarely ever does. In 46 other states, the right is restored either immediately or on completion of probation.

Two states–Maine and Vermont–never take away a felon’s right: felons may vote from prison, as it should be. Just because you’re a criminal doesn’t mean you’re less of a citizen. Fourteen states restore the right immediately upon completion of a prison sentence, even if the felon is on probation or parole. Nineteen states restore the right once probation or parole are completed. Seven states restore the right in other ways, depending on the crime committed.


In Florida, paying your debt means little. You get out of prison, then you get to live on the margin of society, branded and ostracized, your chances of reintegration diminished at every turn. Florida stands out for harshness and disproportion: it accounts for a quarter of America’s disenfranchised population, and of course 21 percent of those are black. It’s a reminder of the prohibition’s origin in Florida’s Jim Crow Constitution, when the state in a vengeful mood looked for every way again to dehumanize recently freed slaves.

These days the fact that a fifth of felons are black is just a bonus to those who confuse civil rights with a privilege. I still hear the occasional fool refer to voting as a privilege, but it’s usually the same sort of mentality that considers driving, health care, eating and schooling a privilege. It’s amazing how much some people relish playing judge and jury with other people’s dignity. But we live in a country where freedom has itself degraded into a privilege, the polity’s equivalent of a gated community. If you’re on the outside, tough shit.

Charlie Crist as governor enabled felons to get their voting rights restored faster. It was a good step. Small, but encouraging. Then came Rick Scott, who has a special place in his bile for inmates: he’s ordered the state-sponsored murder of more death row inmates than all his predecessors. Unsurprisingly, he scrapped the Crist initiative and made it harder than ever for felons to vote again.

The problem of course is Florida’s retrograde constitution and a Legislature controlled by Republicans who still like their morals stewed in 1868. Thankfully, Floridians for a Fair Democracy managed to put Amendment 4 on the November ballot. The proposed constitutional amendment would automatically restore voting rights to all convicts who’ve completed their sentence and probation and paid restitution, with the exception of murderers, which is understandable (a murderer has ended a life, among other things literally taking someone else’s right to vote away from him or her: that doesn’t get restituted, nor should the killer’s right to vote) and sex offenders, which is less so (there’s no logical parallel between crime and prohibition in those cases, other than a state’s fixation on reserving for sex crimes a special circle of Floridian hell).

Early returns are serrated with rage. There’s the ideological fear. Restoring voting rights to so many people, a majority of whom are likely to trend Democratic, sows fear in Republican hearts, rightfully so: it would take this state out of swing-state territory and plunk it in the blue column for good. But opposing rights-restoration purely on ideological ground looks bad, so opponents come up with other pretexts.

“If you show such poor judgement that you became a convicted felon,” goes one such reaction I read in these pages’ comments, “then I honestly really don’t want you, and your judgement, impacting the country and state.” This from someone who probably thinks the 63 million Americans who voted for the least qualified, most aberrant president in the nation’s history, and a felon many times over himself if he weren’t so richly insulated by layers, showed better judgment.

There are untold criminals of ethics, morals, manners and presumptions who’ve never been branded as felons but who vote with abandon. I’m not as worried about lesser criminals regaining the right to do likewise. I’ll be voting for Amendment 4.

Pierre Tristam is FlaglerLive’s editor. Reach him by email here or follow him @PierreTristam.

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41 Responses for “Restoring Felons’ Right to Vote:
Why I’m Voting Yes on Amendment 4”

  1. palmcoaster says:

    Got to vote YES!

  2. Jim says:

    ANYONE CONVICTED OF A. VIOLENT. FELONY SHOULD LOSE THE RIGHT TO VOTE. FOREVER!!!

  3. Jim says:

    So…….VOTE NO NO NO BO NO NO

  4. Roger Clegg says:

    If you aren’t willing to follow the law yourself, then you can’t demand a role in making the law for everyone else, which is what you do when you vote. The right to vote can be restored to felons, but it should be done carefully, on a case-by-case basis after a person has shown that he or she has really turned over a new leaf, not automatically on the day someone completes his sentence. After all, the unfortunate truth is that most people who walk out of prison will be walking back in. Read more about this issue on our website here [ http://www.ceousa.org/voting/voting-news/felon-voting/538-answering-the-challenges-to-felon-disenfranchisement ] and our congressional testimony here: [
    http://judiciary.house.gov/_files/hearings/pdf/Clegg100316.pdf ]

  5. Agkistrodon says:

    Why ONLY their right to Vote? Please someone have the decency to answer this. Perhaps Pierre can address it. Why ONLY voting Rights Pierre? WHY not ALL their Constitutional Rights?

  6. FlaglerRedo says:

    First, The only President I know that has actually admitted to committing a felony is Barack Obama. In his autobiography “Dreams of My Father”, he talks about his abuse of cocaine. Possession of cocaine in Florida is a 3rd degree felony.

    Secondly, Pierre thinks that although not all Democrats are felons, all felons are Democrats. Sounds like a great campaign slogan.

    Third, using the same logic we probably should fully restore their 2nd Amendment rights also.

    Personally, I think this is going to backfire on the Democrats if they think this will boast their chances.

    • Pierre Tristam says:

      Not clear how you go from “a majority of whom are likely to trend Democratic” to “all Democrats are felons,” though being familiar with the “all Arabs are terrorists” logic of reactionaries I see where you’re coming from. But whether it would help Democrats or not, we don’t hold civil rights to ideological preferences in this country, do we? Actually, of course we do: why else is Florida resisting restoration? As for the Second Amendment, I agree: unless a felon was convicted for a crime committed with a firearm, there’s no reason all rights to weaponry should not be restored. And yes, Agkistrodon, that goes for all their constitutional rights.

  7. Richard says:

    I voted NO so your YES vote just got cancelled. Besides, I think a better subject for your article would have been, “Pulling the Wool Over the Eyes of Floridians by the Constitution Revision Committee”.

  8. Thisthat says:

    If you believe the right to vote should be restored then you must believe all rights must be restored, even the right to legally own a firearm.

  9. Michael Cocchiola says:

    YES!!! on 4.

  10. Fredrick says:

    All you had to say was “If they have served their time, which includes probation, they should get their right to vote back”. That I agree with and voted for. The other 99.9% of what you have written is the same liberal BS that prevents your party from doing anything constructive. It actually seems to be very devise rhetoric. Can’t we all just get a long Pierre?

  11. BW says:

    Agkistrodon, steps. Yes, all civil rights should be restored. That’s why voting yes on this is very important.

  12. Ken says:

    Vote NO! The right to vote for convicted felons should rest with the Florida Legislature. A constitutional amendment (revision) is NOT the path to do it!! This is a legislative issue not State Constitution issue.

  13. Agkistrodon says:

    Well then Pierre IF YOU believe ALL rights should be restored, YOU should vote NO as this is SIMPLE pandering, and should NOT be accepted.

  14. Brian says:

    I’m sorry, did you just claim that driving is a right? Please back up your reasoning for claiming such non-sense.

    • Pierre Tristam says:

      Sure. Don’t take my reasoning for it. Take that of a Floridian judge. This from a case in the Circuit Court of the Ninth Judicial Circuit, Orange County, Florida, case No. 2002-CA-2828, Sultaana Lakiana Myke Freeman v. State of Florida, Department of Highway Safety and Motor Vehicles, June 6, 2003; opinion by Circuit Judge Janet C. Thorpe: “Although the Florida statutes use the term “driving privileges,” this does not mean that driving is a “privilege” rather than a “right.” The court recognizes that in Sherbert v. Verner, 374 US 398 (1963), the U.S. Supreme Court stated that the distinction between privilege and right is not meaningful when the benefit in question, i.e., being able to drive a car and thereby conduct normal life activities, is the same. So even if driving is a “privilege,” the government may not deny Plaintiff that benefit without showing that there is a compelling state interest that overrides her right to free exercise of religion.”

  15. Geezer says:

    The majority of crimes committed go unsolved.

    The slippery “free criminals” all get to vote. (if they even bother)
    May as well allow the “official” criminals to vote just like the “Banksters”
    and other well-heeled evildoers who will never get charged with a felony.

    And yes:
    “The first thing that should shock anyone with a conscience is that there
    are 1.7 million felons in Florida.”
    Or anyone with an I.Q. above phlegm,
    for that matter…

  16. Jorie says:

    I voted YES on 4!!!
    Everyone deserves their right to vote I dont care who you are or what you did!

  17. Mark says:

    Obviously the system needs to be fixed to allow for restoration of some felon’s voting rights. But, is this the best way? How about changing the law that removes the right? Why should a serial child abuser be allowed to vote? Why shouldn’t a murder’s right to vote be taken away? They will get it back when they die. If one’s right to freedom is taken away then why shouldn’t the right to vote also be revoked? Do voting sites come to the patient in the hospital? Then why should the voting site come to a prison?

    The law removing the voting rights need to be adjusted to not remove the right from lesser classed felons. This remedy, not so much.

  18. PC Citizen says:

    A man gets arrested because his drunk girlfriend calls the police and says he hit her. Court decides to give him probation and make him a felon. The man completes his probation but his Rights are not restored. All because his lying drunk/drugged up girlfriend cries domestic violence……..Oh did I mention this “girlfriend” has had 4 other “boyfriends arrested for domestic violence…….Anyone see a pattern that the court system doesn’t ?

    I vote YES

  19. Pogo says:

    @trumphole lynch mob wrong as usual

    Maybe people who demonstrably (their own words are the proof) don’t know what the hell they’re shouting about shouldn’t be voting, e.g. not knowing the source of the amendments on the ballot:

    “…Three legislative referrals are certified for the ballot: (1) the Permanent Cap on Nonhomestead Parcel Assessment Increases Amendment, (2) the Homestead Exemption Increase Amendment, and the (3) Two-Thirds Vote of Legislature to Increase Taxes or Fees Amendment.
    I
    n 2018, two citizen-initiated constitutional amendments—the Voter Approval of Casino Gambling Initiative and the Voting Rights Restoration for Felons Initiative—were certified for the ballot.

    In 2018, the Florida Constitution Revision Commission (CRC) referred eight constitutional amendments to the ballot, combining multiple proposals in some of the amendments. Amendment 8 was blocked from appearing on the ballot.
    On the ballot…”
    https://ballotpedia.org/Florida_2018_ballot_measures

    Vote YES on Amendment 4. Vote Blue as if your life, health, and future depend upon it. They do.

  20. Bc. says:

    Pierre finally I can agree with you on this normally I think you are way to liberal but this time I am with you.

  21. Joe Shmo says:

    I’m a felon, I am also a Republican. I made a mistake many years ago, and paid my debt to society. The fact that I can’t vote weighs heavily on my mind. Yes, perhaps I should have thought about that before committing my crime, but at the time it was the least of my worries. I have been out if prison for 3 years now, I own a home, have a family, and a well paying job. I have once again become a productive member of society. Please vote Yes. Give us back some of our dignity.

  22. FelonSoWhat says:

    I am a convicted felon. So what? I had a non violent, non sex, non drug charge when I was just over the threshold for being an adult. I tried drug court because I was an addict at the time, and I relapsed. I got the book thrown at me to “make an example” of me, in the words of Raul Zambrano. Never before in trouble in my life, nor in trouble sense, but never the less a felon for being an addict and taking from my own home (well my mother’s i was just a “child” at the time) and pawning it. It’s value? $311. 12 dollars less it would have been a misdemeanor and I wouldn’t be commenting. But I was made an example, I was sent to prison for 2 years. I was given probation which I completed years ago. Now? I work, have a beautiful family, house, brand new cars in the driveway, take care of my mother who is now disabled, and have not even had as much as a parking ticket since.

    But what is the right to vote going to do for me? Does it let me take my family on a vacation out of the states? No. Does it let me protect them, or even my wife who has never been in trouble to own a gun to defend our household in a worst case scenario? No, it doesn’t. I applaud the effort to try to do something, but I don’t see a benefit from it truly. I only see a Democratic base desperate for votes, focusing on that high percentage of felons being a minority, and “hopefully” a democrat as well.

    What they need to focus on is those people who committed a crime that didn’t deserve the justification of felon. These laws were written countless years ago, when $300 was equivalent to thousands of dollars today. These laws are antiquated, and the punishment sometimes far supersedes the crime

  23. Fuggetaboutit says:

    Really Pierre….? Do we need those Liberal votes that bad?
    Definition of felony
    1 : an act on the part of a feudal vassal (see VASSAL sense 1) involving the forfeiture of his fee
    2a : a grave crime formerly differing from a misdemeanor (see MISDEMEANOR sense 1) under English common law by involving forfeiture in addition to any other punishment
    b : a grave crime (such as murder or rape) declared to be a felony by the common law or by statute regardless of the punishment actually imposed
    c : a crime declared a felony by statute because of the punishment imposed
    d : a crime for which the punishment in federal law may be death or imprisonment for more than one year

  24. flagler1 says:

    What if they serve their time and pay their debt twice? I say never at all.

  25. Dave says:

    Obvious vote yes ,do the crime ,pay the time, get your rights restored. This country was founded on crime

  26. Michael Cocchiola says:

    Joe Shmo is the very reason why we must restore former felons’ right to vote. People make horrible mistakes. In our society, if you pay for your mistakes and you make amends, you are given a second chance. Only by full restoration of all civil rights can we hope to turn former felons fully back to productive members of society. It’s the American way.

  27. FlaglerFlyer says:

    @Joe. You Have a family, a job, and own a home. Regardless of the outcome of this amendment you certainly have a lot of dignity!

    And on that note, I hope that Democrats will join Trump in criminal justice reform. Far too many individuals have their lives destroyed for non-violent/non-threatening offenses. Our country could be improved significantly if reasonable reform could be achieved.

  28. Alphonse Abonte says:

    NO on 4. They had a choice, made it, pay for it . Let them go through the legal system to retain their right to vote for the ones that want it.

  29. KathieLee4 says:

    YES on 4 !!!! Let’s get on-board with the other states .. Yes yes yes on 4 !!!!

  30. Agkistrodon says:

    Life is full of CHOICES and Consequences. It IS possible to go through life without committing any crimes, let alone a felony. If YOU choose otherwise, YOU have to live with the Consequences, and in MANY states loss of Voting rights is one of them. Being able to get a job without holding a Felony is MUCH more Important.

  31. jim says:

    if the big said NON VIOLENT FELONS… I would vote YES but when you include ALL FELONS
    I say NOTE NO hey Jorie if one of your loved ones was God forbid raped or murdered… you wouldn’t have a problem w/ them voting when they were released???? WOW!!! VOTE NO until the bill is rewritten

  32. Sherry says:

    First let me say I was born and raised in Florida, and my maternal ancestors came to this region in the 1600’s.

    Again, my BACKWARDS home state is one of only 14 states that does NOT allow “automatic” restoration of voting rights for felons . . . under objective regulations and processes. Here is what a judge of the US District Court ordered regarding changes our current caprice, subjective process. . . which requires people to “kowtow” to the governor and others:

    Under the Florida Constitution, a convicted felon cannot vote, serve on a jury, or hold public office until civil rights have been restored. There have been some past efforts to make the process easier, especially in 2007 under former Gov. Charlie Crist, a Republican at the time who is now a Democratic member of Congress.

    But in 2011, Scott and the Florida Cabinet made the process more cumbersome and set a minimum five-year waiting period. Since then, about 30,000 have applied to restore their civil rights and 3,000 have been granted, according to the Florida Commission on Offender Review. There are about 10,000 pending cases.

    The Fair Elections Legal Network challenged the state’s policy in court. U.S. District Court Judge Mark Walker ruled that the state’s system is arbitrary because the state has unfettered discretion in restoring voting rights.

    “Disenfranchised citizens must kowtow before a panel of high-level government officials over which Florida’s Governor has absolute veto authority,” Walker wrote Feb. 1. “No standards guide the panel. Its members alone must be satisfied that these citizens deserve restoration.”

    In March, Walker ordered the Cabinet to create a new process. Florida’s Cabinet, which includes Scott, asked a federal appeals court to delay Walker’s order pending appeal. They argued that a delay is necessary to avoid “chaos and uncertainty” in upcoming (wretched SCOTT) elections.

    I voted YES. . . please consider a vote for “humane” treatment of those that have paid their debt to society.

    BTW. . . the right to vote, and the right to own a gun is yet another ridiculous “Strawman” equivalency.

  33. Nancy N. says:

    Mark – all of the things you said need to be “adjusted” for are already in this constitutional amendment! Murderers and sex offenders do not get their rights restored with this amendment, only lesser offenders. Voting sites don’t “come to prison” as no one will be eligible to vote again until they’ve completed their prison sentences and probation time.

    I voted “yes” on amendment four. It’s the right thing to do.

  34. Vote Yes on 4 says:

    Vote yes on 4 and then we need to see that the conviction of a FELONY crime meets the action. There are so many things that are petty and unwarranted to carry a FELONY label. Felony conviction should only be for violent crimes, rapes, murders and serious crimes. The way it is going there are going to be more people over the next few decades that are going to be convicted with felonies that can’t vote, can’t get jobs, can’t get housing and the crime rate is going to go up. It should never be the purpose to punish one to cripple them the rest of their life. No one that walks this earth is sin free and if all have been caught for everything the did—all would more than likely be felons. Vote yes on 4!!!

  35. Dave says:

    FlaglerRedo, you are mistaken, this IS NOT a bi partisan issue about getting more voters for left twix or right twix, this is about restoring people’s constitutional rights. Not everything is about left and right

  36. Stephen Smith says:

    Not restoring a non violent felon’s right to vote or discriminateing against someone with a record goes a long way towards preventing them from integrating back into society. When you continue to punish people after they have paid their debt to society you are just making it more likely they will need to resort once again to crime in order to survive. I believe in second chances. I voted yes.

  37. mark101 says:

    I would bet the felons that have been sentenced for a crime and have did their time in jail, never voted before they did the crime and are not going to vote if they are allowed.

  38. Dave says:

    Mark that’s a bet I would take!, I personally know of atleast three families with members that have been in trouble. All were and are very active in the political scene. Having to go threw an experience like that actually makes people value their rights more than most. By your post it seems you shallowly paint all people with a felony with the same brush.

  39. mark101 says:

    Being in trouble and committing a felony Capital, First , second or third degree felony. I have NO problem with someone that was arrested for a small possession of weed with the intent NO to distribute to be allowed to vote,

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