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Denying Voting Rights to Felons Should Be Beneath Us

| June 17, 2019

Blowhardism in action: House Rep. James Grant, who led the fight for restrictions on Amendment 4. (Florida Channel)

Blowhardism in action: House Rep. James Grant, who led the fight for restrictions on Amendment 4. (Florida Channel)

By Nancy Smith

The felons’ voting-rights tug-of-war showcases the worst — the very worst — of America’s political parties. Who gets to vote should be driven by citizenship, the spirit of the United States Constitution and all America stands for, not by blowhardism and dirty tricks.

Neither party before or since Amendment 4 has summoned its better angels.

But I must tell you, I think the Republicans in the Legislature have really blown this one.

First, the argument for keeping the incarcerated and the newly released off the voting rolls is based on an archaic punitive disciplinary structure. We should have moved on from that a long time ago. Clinging to a wrong-headed facet of our electoral process just to deny voting rights to an estimated 1.5 million of the state’s eligible voters — 3 percent of the nation’s — is a structure no democratic country, let alone a strong, self-confident republic like ours, should tolerate.

The Florida Legislature wants to require people with felony convictions to pay back all court fines and fees before registering to vote.

This requirement will prevent hundreds of thousands of ex-felons from ever in their lives voting. Heck, they won’t even try. Why? Because they won’t be able to afford it. Florida charges defendants “user fees.” That’s how we finance our criminal justice system. We saddle them with massive fines as soon as they’re convicted. Most defendants fall down a financial hole from which they can never escape. 

According to the Brennan Center for Justice, “Floridians convicted of a felony have to pay to obtain a public defender ($100 to $1,000) and to reinstate a suspended driver’s license ($60 to $500). Receive medical treatment in prison? You’re on the hook for the cost. You can pay it out of your inmate bank deposit, but maintaining banking services behind bars will cost you $6 a month.”

People who entered prison poor sink deeper once inside. They come out of prison buried in a crushing debt.

I ask you honestly, would you tolerate court-cost-and-fee restrictions like these if they were imposed on your free speech, free assembly, freedom of religion or freedom to petition government for redress of grievances? How about your freedom from “unreasonable” searches, or the right to counsel? Of course you wouldn’t. You would be the first to scream, “This is America! This shouldn’t be happening!”

It’s true, the “right to vote” is a kind of stepchild in the family of American rights, which is why each state individually gets to define what that means. 

But it’s especially unsavory to me, who grew up believing the vote and citizenship were synonymous. Both sacred. My grandmother was one of the original marching, sign-carrying New England suffragettes. I was inspired by her stories of fighting for women’s rights. The Constitution may not have given women voting rights either — at least, not specifically — but it inspired millions of people like my grandmother to super-patriotism and an abiding pride in this nation. Listening to her stories, she became one of the great heroes of my life.

I also think the largely Republican Legislature keeps shooting itself in the foot when it fails to follow the will of the voters. The felons’ voting rights bill is 2016’s Amendment 2 — The Florida Medical Marijuana Legalization Initiative — all over again. 

Some 71.32 percent of the voters in 2016 explicitly approved allowing medical marijuana as a treatment for patients with a laundry list of specific diseases. The voters had spoken. That should have been it. But instead of working to make it happen as soon as possible, Republican lawmakers did their darndest to throw obstacles up. Voters expressed their anger by electing marijuana lobbyist and cheerleader Nikki Fried over Rep. Matt Caldwell, albeit by a narrow margin.

If a felon serves his time and returns to society, he ought to be able to engage as a citizen and vote. In fact, he should be encouraged to. That voter’s card is the one card in his wallet that shouldn’t cost a thing. Whether he decides to vote at election time is anybody’s guess. But I’m thinking felons are probably as motivated as the rest of Florida’s eligible voters: A guaranteed 40 percent of them will show up at the polls — if it’s not raining.

Republicans would get a bigger boost by laying down their arms, walking a higher road, and developing a program to connect with ex-felons. They have the better agenda.

nancy smith sunshine state news columnistNancy Smith is the editor of Sunshine State News. She started her career at the Daily Mirror and The Observer in London before spending 28 years at The Stuart News/Port St. Lucie News as managing editor and associate editor. She was president of the Florida Society of Newspaper Editors in the mid-1990s. Reach her by email here, or follow her on twitter at @NancyLBSmith.

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19 Responses for “Denying Voting Rights to Felons Should Be Beneath Us”

  1. Vincent DeVita says:

    Maybe it’ll make someone think twice before committing a felony. If they knew what they were going to be held liable for maybe, it should act as a deterrent.

  2. Concerned Citizen says:

    What about victims rights?

    We seem to have a large portion of society feeling more sorry for offenders than victims these days. Everyone is out there demanding that offenders get their rights back immediatley. What about the lives of the victims they created when committing a crime? Do they get a “normal life” automatically restored?

    Most people who committ felonies do so willingly. You chose to break the law and now have to pay a debt to clear it up. If you think that debt was unfair then perhaps you should not have broken the law in the first place. I know that sounds harsh but I as a a tax payer am supporting a lot of these offenders that are incarcerated with money needed else where. And now you are demanding rights restored?

    To clarify. I have nothing against offenders having rights restored. AFTER you fully complete your sentencing.That includes time served, probation, fines and restitution towards your victims. When you have completed ALL of those requirements you agreed to at sentencing then you can have your rights back.

  3. Richard says:

    You people need to get off of your soap boxes and come back down to earth and reality. Why are you not advocating for restoration of ALL of the felons constitutional rights including the right to bear arms in addition to the right to vote and any other right that has been taken away from the felon? Let me answer that for you. You are being selective right along with those that believe felons need to repay society for ALL of their actions and the consequences that go along with those very poor decisions by them to commit crimes. Bottom-line, if you can’t do the time and repay the fine then DON”T do the crime. GOT IT? If not, then you are just as ignorant as all of the felons are when they find out they will never have to pay back their debts to society. Chaos here we come! SMH

  4. Fredrick says:

    Lot’s of things should be beneath us but worrying about Felons voting rights is not at the top of the list. How about killing babies that would be viable outside the womb.. I think your priorities may be mixed up. ….

  5. Agkistrodon says:

    After all fines, fees and time are done restore all RIGHTS. Why pick and choose. I get it. But if they are RIGHTS, why can’t they have ALL of them back/. Agenda is showing. If you are for ones rights, you should be for ALL of them. Not just the one’s you “like” or “need”.

  6. Alphonse Abonte says:

    Voting is not on a felons mind, only a Democrat wants a felon to vote ,for the vote. Now that capital punishment is off the table, something has to be left to deter criminals. I do not believe that when a crime is committed , the perp is thinking about losing their voting rights. Prove me wrong.

  7. oldtimer says:

    So if the felon who MURDERED my son gets paroled some day he should get to vote? When will my son get his rights back?

  8. ken says:

    According to the U.S. Department of Justice, about 68 percent of 405,000 prisoners released in 30 states in 2005 were arrested for a new crime within three years of their release from prison, and 77 percent were arrested within five years.
    This is one of the reasons we don’t need felons voting

  9. OIF/ OEF Vet says:

    Another liberal hit-piece…
    Only Democrats (read Liberal-commie-dirtbags) want felons to vote.
    Felons do not care about voting… Sure, they will tell you they do from behind bars, but that is item number 219 from their current list of wants/ demands.
    If they cared so much about voting rights, they would never have committed a felony.
    Liberals really are pulling all their dirty tricks… Illegals voting illegally… Felons voting illegally… who knows who else is voting illegally.
    How about restoring voting rights to felons only after completing sentence/probation/fines, holding a job for X amount of years and providing X amount of community hours?
    I would listen to that argument… all others are invalid and an inept attempt at (continued) Liberal voter fraud.

  10. atilla says:

    The liberals want this because they know they’ll vote liberal. Just like California and Pelosi allowing illegals to vote because they know they’ll vote for liberals.

  11. Don Brown says:

    Sir, I for one don’t believe that it’s beneath us that have never committed a crime to take away our voting rights to worry about those that have. They lost their voting rights by their own fault, not mine. They should have thought about the results of their actions beforehand, but the problem is they don’t think.

  12. Roll on 2 says:

    The irony to all of this is that many ex-felons work in the construction industry, and most of those in the construction industry tend to support Republicans!

  13. Just a thought says:

    This doesn’t apply to people charged with a felony. This doesn’t apply to people with adjudication with held for a felony. This doesn’t apply to be people found not guilty of a felony. As I understand it, a person has to be convicted, adjudicated guilty, of a crime worthy of a sentence of imprisonment for greater than one year.
    So many people complain about the revolving door or the justice system, how judges should be harsher, but how many people are actually adjudicated guilty of a felony. From my research into Flagler county cases, the first felony case is very rarely adjudicated guilty. I’ve notice people who have multiple adjudication withheld and no state time served. It seems you have to do something to seriously shock the morals or outrage the public sense of good to earn the title of convicted felon.

  14. Common Sense says:


  15. itisthe says:

    i was young and dumb and committed felonies. i could care less about voting at that point of my life. As I got older I was pissed I couldnt vote. Now I cant wait to vote republican across the board. if your not a democrat by the time you’re 18 you have no heart…if your not a republican by the time you’re 25 you have no brain. luckily i grew out of my ignorant childish stage and became an actual adult. Now I can vote with my brain.

  16. mark101 says:

    You take a life or rape a child or brutally rape a woman you lose your rights to vote, I don’t see a problem with that. Maybe these people that support letting these murders vote, approve of their actions and tell that to the victims families,.

  17. Dave says:

    In this case ,the criminals are the victims and we are trying to make sure these victims rights are protected. This is an important step of the system we need fixed to install the values our country stands for. All Americans should have the right to vote even if in Prison

  18. Pogo says:

    @Nancy Smith

    Who are you – and what have you done with the real Nancy Smith?

    The commenters barking about liberal this and that couldn’t be further off the mark than they are in this case:

    who owns sunshine state news…0.0..0.123.3135.14j17……0….1..gws-wiz…….0j0i30j0i8i30j0i8i7i30.EHGSUbX3lAU

    Ms. Smith, this is twice now, since desantis slithered into the mansion, that FlaglerLive has re-posted you and I was in complete agreement with you. I need a rest.

  19. Unbelievable says:

    I am tired of the liberal mindset to feel sorry for felons. I believe a FIRST TIME OFFENDER should be able to restore their rights as a free citizen.I can be ok with that. You make ONE mistake, and pay with your time, then yes – you get back your right to vote.

    However, if you are a frequent flyer, and they know you on a first name basis at the local jail – you have relinquished any and all rights to anything. We ALL make mistakes. Someone that repeatedly causes harm to their fellow human beings whether in property or life, has made THEIR CHOICE and should realize the CONSEQUENCES of their choices.

    The bleeding heart liberal that wrote this piece, has absolutely NO EMPATHY for the victims OR society. The victims bear the most horrible burdens for life! They have to live with the fear and terror the betrayal of trust, and most of all, the feeling of not being safe. The victims of life ending crimes, or violations like rape – what about THEIR rights??? How does it affect them that their perpetrator gets to vote – and can affect the outcome of THEIR life?????

    Victims of murder don’t get to vote ever again. You want to be fair? I think every family of a MURDER victim, gets to exercise an ADDITIONAL vote, to balance out letting their attacker getting their right to vote back!

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