The decades-long fight for Florida’s ex-felons to regain voting rights
Reform advocates have been fighting to restore voting rights for Florida’s ex-felons for nearly two decades. And now an estimated 1.5 million convicted felons could regain their rights after completing their sentence if a majority of Florida voters support a constitutional amendment in November.
Why it matters
Florida permanently bans citizens with past felony convictions from voting, only giving the governor executive power to restore their voting rights. Felony disenfranchisement laws affect about 6 million nationally, but Florida’s remain the most stringent and they ban more people from voting than any other state.
- September 2000: A federal class-action lawsuit against then-Gov. Jeb Bush, challenged the constitutionality of the ban and sought to overturn it. The plaintiffs said an estimated 600,000 people were barred from voting at the time, adding that the prohibition dating back to 1868 was used to prevent newly enfranchised blacks from voting during the Reconstruction and Jim Crow era.
- April 2007: Then-Republican Gov. Charlie Crist enacted reforms to his executive clemency powers, automatically restoring voting rights to non-violent offenders and no longer requiring a hearing or petition. The Clemency Board had 30 days to review and grant approvals.
- "At that time, we had an estimated 950,000 disenfranchised ex-offenders. Through the new process we pushed through, civil rights for 155,315 Floridians were restored in four years," Crist, now a Democratic U.S. representative, wrote in an Orlando Sentinel op-ed last year.
- Scott has only granted 2,976 applications since 2011, a spokesperson at the state’s Commission on Offender Review told Axios. (No figures available for the amount granted at a hearing last December). Meanwhile, there’s a backlog of more than 10,000 applications awaiting review, per multiple reports.
The big picture
Felon voting rights restoration would dramatically shift the makeup of the country’s largest battleground state, which plays a deciding role in presidential elections. Democrats would benefit because the prohibition disproportionately affects African-Americans, a group that overwhelmingly votes Democratic. In Florida, per the Sentencing Project, more than 1 in 5 African-Americans are affected.
This story has been updated to clarify what the plaintiffs are seeking in the suit filed last year.
February 12, 2018 at 06:01PM