Why Florida needs a constitutional amendment to restore felons’ voting rights

September 13th, 2015

RBoard-of-Executive-Clemencyoughly ten percent of all Floridians of voting age are not allowed to vote because they were convicted of felonies. Even after they have served their time, made any restitution required and satisfied all other conditions of their sentences, these 1.6 million Floridians still cannot vote.

Florida’s policy on restoration of civil rights is one of the toughest – if not THE toughest – in the nation. Only Kentucky and Iowa compare.

Statistics from The Sentencing Project underscore the point: nationally, the number of people barred from voting because of felony convictions is 5.85 million. So Florida represents fully 27 percent of the total for the whole country.

Although the debate over the past few years has properly focused on the state’s performance in this area under the administration of Rick (“Voldemort”) Scott, things were not much better under most governors in recent history (see table) for one reason or another. Ironically, the exception was Charlie Crist, who was known as “Chain-Gang Charlie” during his stints as a state senator and attorney general for his tough-on-crime positions and rhetoric. Under Crist, restoration for many offenders was automatic — as it is in many states.

The policy is not established by statute. It is determined by the Executive Clemency Board, a panel which is comprised of the governor, attorney general, chief financial officer, and commissioner of agriculture and consumer services, and therefore is subject to change every few years. Under the current draconian rules, which were written by attorney general Pam (“The Punisher”) Bondi, who reportedly plans to ascend to the governorship in 2018, restoration of rights has been made nearly impossible.

2015 (as of 8/31/15) Rick Scott 296
2011-2014 Rick Scott 1550
2007-2010 Charlie Crist 155,314
2003-2006 Jeb! Bush 65,340
1999-2002 Jeb! Bush 11,307
1995-1998 Lawton Chiles 5,015
1991-1994 Lawton Chiles 18,292
1987-1990 Bob Martinez 45,422

The first step is to make an application, and of course, there is an Application Form. But you have to wait for five years AFTER all the terms of your sentence have been completed before you can submit your application – unless your offense falls into the “more serious” category, in which case you have to wait seven years.

Then you have to wait for your application to be reviewed and investigated in order to determine whether you are in fact eligible for a hearing. Between the fact that Florida has the third-largest prison population in the country and the Scott administration prides itself on eliminating public employees’ jobs, there is a huge backlog of applications, so this can take several more years.

If you clear that hurdle, you have to get on the schedule for a hearing. But the Executive Clemency Board meets only four times a year, so that can take another year or two… or more.

By the way, here’s the real punchline: Felonies in Flori-duh include messing with someone else’s lobster trap and walking onto a construction site without permission.

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