Federal Judge Rules Against Florida’s Felon Disenfranchisement System

Justice is finally arriving for about 1.5 million ex-felons in Florida who have been disenfranchised by Governor Rick Scott and the state Republican Party. On Thursday, U.S. District Judge Mark Walker said that Florida’s lifetime ban on voting for former felons is unconstitutional in its current form.

Before anyone gets too excited, this decision does not automatically restore voting rights to afflicted individuals. Rather, Judge Walker deemed the existing system that effectively prevents ex-felons from regaining these rights completely unacceptable.

The existing process to reinstate voting rights for felons in Florida is deliberately slow. The governor and his cabinet meet four times a year to consider petitions, but can only go through so many cases at a time. 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.

Prior to 2011 when Scott implemented this system, felons – excluding murderers and sex offenders – could request their voting rights back without such a laborious process. The judge’s ruling should force the state to return to a system where felons can either obtain or request their voting rights back without all the wait and uncertainty.

Right now, only three states – Florida, Iowa and Kentucky – permanently ban ex-felons with any type of conviction from voting (unless they receive a pardon from the government.) Most states either restore voting rights to citizens once they’re out of prison or upon completion of probation/parole.

Jude Walker specifically pointed to the First and Fourteenth Amendments as reasons why the existing system is unconstitutional, arguing that depriving ex-felons of voting rights denied their right to expression, as well as equal protection due to all Americans.

“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. “When the risk of state-sanctioned viewpoint discrimination skulks near franchise, it is the province and duty of this Court to excise such potential bias from infecting the clemency process.”

Walker even used Governor Scott’s own words against him. At one point, Scott had insisted, “We can do whatever we want” in regards to deciding on the voting rights of felons, which Walker took as a sign that the governor was not doing what was fair, but what was politically most advantageous to him.

The system Scott devised left the sole discretion of which ex-felons could vote again up to he and his peers, with no set standards. Scott only approves about 8 percent of the petitions. The governor shouldn’t get to decide who gets to vote based on personal whims.

One example of apparent favoritism is the case of Steven Warner, who confessed that he had voted illegally in 2010 to Scott’s panel, but added that his vote had been cast for Scott. Scott made a joke and then promptly restored Warner’s voting rights.

Ex-felons in Florida could get even better news this November, with a ballot initiative set to go on the ballot that would automatically restore voting rights to felons – aside from murderers and sex offenders – upon completion of their sentences.

Photo credit: Thinkstock

48 comments

Paulo R
Paulo R2 months ago

ty

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Paulo R
Paulo R2 months ago

ty

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Debra Tate
Debra Tate2 months ago

Thank you.

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Chad A
Chad A2 months ago

Thank you!

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Cathy B
Cathy B2 months ago

Thank you for posting.

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Amanda M
Amanda M2 months ago

The irony is that the Rethuglican Religious Reich claims to be the party that's all about "Christian values," and yet they way they act and rule is anything BUT! Their attitude seems to be "To err is human. To forgive, IMPOSSIBLE!" Once a felon has paid their debt to society, then they should be able to vote again, not have to jump through more hoops than a trained seal. And people wonder why I always have and always WILL vote Democrat!

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Winn A
Winn A2 months ago

:-(

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Joan E
Joan E2 months ago

This is just another way Republicans keep people likely to vote against their party off the voter rolls. It is discriminatory, unfair and evil, especially since they tend to treat minorities more harshly in the "Justice" system so they are more likely to be imprisoned, often unfairly.

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Clare O
Clare O'Beara2 months ago

If they cared so much about rights they would have respected the rights of the persons they harmed. Quite appropriate that they should wait a while.

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Ellie M
Ellie M2 months ago

ty

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