Should Florida Restore Felon Voting Rights?

10/02/2017 09:51 pm ET Updated Oct 03, 2017

Current situation

Nearly 1.7 million Florida citizens are permanently disenfranchised from voting in state and federal elections because of being former felons. Disenfranchisement has climbed from 2.6 percent of the state’s adult citizens in 1980, to 10.4 percent today, the highest rate in the nation, including one in five adult African Americans.[i] A pending Voting Restoration Amendment would automatically restore the right of all Florida’s former felons to vote after they complete parole and probation, except for those convicted of murder or felony sexual offenses. If approximately 680,000 signatures are gathered by December 31, 2017, the Amendment will be included on Florida’s November 2018 ballot to be decided by Florida citizens.

At present, former felons in Florida can only have their voting rights restored through a long, complicated, and often expensive Executive Clemency process. If the Voting Restoration Amendment is passed, the decision about whether these citizens can participate in American democracy would be removed from any particular elected officials, and the restoration of their rights would become law, regardless of changing administrations.

Recent history

During his tenure from January 2007-January 2011, then-Republican governor Charlie Crist and his Clemency Board restored the rights of 155,000 Florida citizens through the clemency process, primarily felons convicted of nonviolent crimes. His successor, Rick Scott, vastly toughened the clemency process, requiring felons to wait up to 7 years just to apply after completing parole and probation. Scott, who is the final arbiter, restored the rights of just 2,500 felons from January 2011 through spring 2017 - only eight percent of those who applied. In contrast, Iowa and Kentucky approved 93 percent and 86 percent respectively in the last five years.

To get involved

As you weigh the initiative and arguments below, you may want to get involved. You can gather signatures in support of the Amendment through Floridians for a Fair Democracy at secondchancesfl.org or contact the initial opposition campaign, Floridians for Sensible Voting Rights Policy, at Floridavotingrights.org

Key Arguments for Supporting Amendment

Key Arguments for Opposing Amendment

Additional Resources for Learning and Discussion

Possible Questions for Classroom Discussions or Forums

  • At what point do you believe people convicted of a crime have paid their debt to society and should be able to participate fully in our democracy?
  • How do other states and countries handle restoration of rights to felons, including voting rights? What can Florida learn from them?
  • What is the historical origin of Florida’s felon disenfranchisement law?
  • Do you believe potential loss of voting rights deters people from criminal activity?
  • Do you believe the current approach has a racially disproportionate impact? If so, what would you consider the prime roots of this impact?
  • Do you know any convicted felons who have been disenfranchised by this law? What are their perspectives?

_______________

[i] The Sentencing Project, the prime authority on this, revised their research methodology in 2016 to yield a lower percentage than the 23 percent figure that media outlets had been using, drawing on their earlier reports.

HuffPost

BEFORE YOU GO

CONVERSATIONS