More than 1.5 million Floridians now unable to participate in elections would automatically have their voting rights restored, under a proposed constitutional amendment that will go before voters in November.
The “Voting Restoration Amendment,” which was approved Tuesday to appear on the ballot as Amendment 4, would automatically restore voting rights to felons who have served their sentences, completed parole or probation and paid restitution. Murderers and sex offenders would be excluded.
Floridians for a Fair Democracy, the political committee behind the petition drive, this week surpassed the requisite 766,200 signatures to put the proposed amendment on the November ballot.
“Voters took matters in their own hands to ensure that their fellow Floridians, family members and friends who’ve made past mistakes, served their time and paid their debts to society are given a second chance and the opportunity to earn back their ability to vote,” Desmond Meade, chairman of the political committee, said in a prepared statement.
If approved by 60 percent of voters, as required for all constitutional amendments, the change would bring Florida in line with nearly every other state in the nation.
The restoration of felons’ rights has long been controversial in Florida, with critics of the state’s process comparing it to post-Civil War Jim Crow policies designed to keep blacks from casting ballots.
A system approved in 2011 by Gov. Rick Scott and the Cabinet required felons convicted of nonviolent crimes to wait a minimum of five years to have their rights restored, while others could wait up to 10 years before being eligible to apply. Backers of the process have argued that the restoration of voting rights for felons should be earned and only after a sufficient waiting period.
Meade, a convicted felon and law-school graduate who struggled for years to have his rights restored, spearheaded the campaign, largely bankrolled by the American Civil Liberties Union and other big donors.
Black state legislators have tried repeatedly to change state law to allow the automatic restoration of rights. But the Republican-dominated Legislature either quashed or ignored the efforts.
The change would apply to people who complete their sentences in the future as well an estimated 1.5 million Floridians, according to the Brennan Center for Justice, which helped get the Florida initiative on the ballot.
“This is a very exciting development,” Myrna Perez, director of the Voting Rights and Elections Project at the Brennan Center, told The News Service of Florida in an interview Tuesday. “The voting requirement (for passage) is 60 percent, but there’s a lot of popular support from all types of Floridians who believe in the idea of second chances and who recognize that this current policy makes Florida an extreme outlier.”
Critics of the current system say the application process is lengthy, cumbersome and imposes unreasonable burdens on felons — including travel to Tallahassee to appear before the Board of Executive Clemency, comprised of Scott, Attorney General Pam Bondi, Agriculture Commissioner Adam Putnam and Chief Financial Officer Jimmy Patronis.
The state agency that process restoration-of-rights applications has long face complaints about backlogs. The agency, now called the Commission on Offender Review, currently has a backlog of more than 10,000 applications, according to the agency.
Meade, for example, originally applied to have his rights restored in 2006, but he got caught up in a backlog of thousands of others eager to take advantage of changes authorized by former Gov. Charlie Crist and the Cabinet that made restoration easier.
But the process took so long that, by the time Meade’s application was examined, he was no longer eligible for the quasi-automatic restoration of civil rights, which include the right to vote.
By then, the new system instituted in 2011 had taken effect. Since then, just a fraction of the more than 100,000 former felons who sought to have their rights restored were successful.
Meade, originally convicted of drug crimes and, later, of aggravated assault and possession of a firearm, received a letter the same year the 2011 changes went into effect telling him he had to wait at least another year to petition to have his rights restored — more than five years after he had first applied.
He said he abandoned his effort and instead focused on revamping the system, pointing out that some people have waited more than a decade just for a hearing to have their rights restored.
Meade earned a law degree from Florida International University in 2014 but is unable to apply for a license to practice law until he has his rights restored.
After the Florida Supreme Court heard arguments about the petition last year, Meade called the inability to vote “a cloak of shame.”
“To be constantly reminded, especially during election season, that yes, you’re good enough to be successful. You’re good enough to overcome obstacles. But you’re not good enough to have your voice heard,” he said.
–Dara Kam, News Service of Florida
So exciting and ling overdue, this is a step foward in the right direction !
Ha… haha…. hahahaha.
No. If you show such poor judgement that you became a convicted felon, then I honestly really don’t want you, and your judgement, impacting the country and state. If reincarnation is a real thing, you can have your voting rights restored on the next go-around.
Chris A Pickett says
The Democrats are getting really desperate. More hillary voters coming soon.
Excellent, something I can vote NO on.
PC Resident says
YES.. If these people have served their time and pay their restitution and expected to re enter back into society, they have earned the right to have their voting rights restored.
So excited, a long time coming, but well deserved to those who have paid their dept. Believe it or not, not all felons are Democrats.
Brian Smith says
Hell no, you have already demonstrated poor judgement in your life. WE DON’T think you looking out for societies best interests going forward.
This will never get 60% in florida. Democrats are going to tl thw extrem now!
Florida is yet again “backwards” ! We are one of only TEN states that “permanently” blocks voting rights for those that have correctly paid their dues for their crimes.
Please don’t start with the usual “if you don’t like it, leave our state” clap trap. My ancestors have been in this region of the USA since the 1700’s, and I was born and raised here. . . so, I certainly will continue to point out when and how my “HOME” state is getting it wrong.
BTW, Chris A Pickett. . . how very intelligent and fair minded of you, as usual. . . she said sarcastically.
Once they serve their sentences and pay their time they should have their right to vote. Stop the conservative voters suppression and also stop the gerrymandering!
Brian Smith says
Florida is yet again “backwards” What? anyone protecting citizens from criminals is not Backwards its called smart. If you prefer wolfs to be running the henhouse you need to move to California where laws are optional and someone’s gender is binary. I certainly don’t want to live in such a place. Democrats really are looking to find a new base for 2020.
@ Brian S. if you do not want to live in this changing Florida maybe you are to move maybe to Al, Ms. Ws. take your pick. Because there are more newcomers here every day with a right to move about our land and with it change arrives Thank God and also Sherry above that is my kinda Florida girl fighting the idiocisy of these good old boys here! I remember when I used to visit the Florida keys and the Monroe county elected idiots running the keys politics were opposed to Miami bringing the sewer connections from the mainland there because ” will just increase the arrival of more residents to their desirable keys” They preferred then to continue polluting our keys waters with their excrement’s leaking out of their old non longer functional septic tanks off their crystal clear bays and just to stop newcomers. The poop generated black and green algae could be seeing all around in the 70 and 80’s. How backwards was that? Glad they finally were overruled. Now for about $5700 all houses have to connect to the sewer line and stop polluting the keys. Common sense won! We will win these open primaries too and stop the gerrymandering as well and the counties elected ones and county attorneys suing our decent constitutional officers and SOE’s and citizens that complaint of them trying to fraud our elections thru the canvassing boards manipulations of ballots!
I’m sorry, but there must be consequences for breaking the law and this is one of them. Is there no end to the pandering being done by political parties? Seriously, do you need voters this badly?
Thanks so much Palmcoaster!
Those who think there should be “No Forgiveness” for people who have paid the full price for their crimes, should throw their bibles away, and stop being hypocritical, while being “locked and loaded” at church!. Please, those among you who are without sin, please come forward and lie through your teeth about how very perfect you are.
It’s absolutely idiotic to think that 40 of our 50 states who do NOT “permanently” remove voting rights only did it to have more Democratic voters. While you mean it as an insult. . . I’m absolutely fine with Democrats being more:
3. Open minded
5. Forward/Future thinking
12. Having integrity
13. Supporting Equality, etc.. .
@ Keep digging your grave Republicans
History of Voting Rights
“Throughout our brief history of just a few centuries, the central conflict in this country has been between those that envision a government determined by and working for all of its people, and those who dream of a country that guarantees the rights of a select few at the expense of all others…”
You are holding back a tide. The future will belong to those living in it – not a dwindling number of elderly reactionaries clinging to a disgraceful past.
Brian Smith says
The road to Hell is paved with good intentions. Your out of your mind to support this..