The decades-long fight for Florida’s ex-felons to regain voting rights (Axios)

The decades-long fight for Florida’s ex-felons to regain voting rights

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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.

Timeline

  • 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.
  • March 2011: Florida Republican Gov. Rick Scott rolled back the Crist-era clemency rules soon after he took office in 2011, setting a 5-year minimum waiting period for ex-felons convicted of nonviolent crimes and 8 years for others. Those who were denied now have to wait at least two years to re-apply.
    • 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.
  • March 2017: The non-partisan group, Fair Elections Legal Network, filed a federal suit, seeking to restore voting rights to nine plaintiffs and ex-felons in the state who have served their full sentences, including parole and probation. The plaintiffs are former felons, but 2 were denied restoration of their civil rights applications because Scott cited their traffic records, the suit said.
  • April 2017: The Florida Supreme Court approved the ballot proposal to restore voting rights for former felons, except for those convicted of murder or sex crimes. Attorney General Pam Bondi argued in support of the state’s lengthy review and waiting period, per the Miami Herald.
  • 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.

    via Axios

    February 12, 2018 at 06:01PM

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