Florida Is, Once Again, Accused of Felon Disenfranchisement. But Are Things Finally Changing?
Florida is, once again, in the national spotlight for a number of civil rights issues associated with its voting practices. The process requires that anyone who had a felony conviction wait five years before petitioning the state to regain the right to vote, which is then decided on a case-by-case basis by Governor Rick Scott and a three-member Cabinet. Some of those robbed of their right to vote were never even ordered to serve prison time; they simply lost their right to vote after being placed on probation and doing service work.
In September, the state’s highest elected officials once again sat in judgment of those whose mistakes cost them the right to vote, whereby, during a five-hour hearing, 90 ex-felons made their case to Scott and the three-member panel, asking to have their voting rights restored. Their fate rests on the arbitrary judgment of Scott and two others on the panel, one of which reportedly (and, arguably, illegally) asks each of the applicants if they “go to church.” The process was recently struck down by a federal judge because it is based on zero guidelines whatsoever and, in being so subjective, violates a number of constitutional rights.
Who Gets “Forgiven”?
Some of the individuals that Scott and the Cabinet have granted full pardons to have included:
- A pastor and devoted father who allegedly committed non-violent crimes a long time ago, and whose character was vouched for by the County Sheriff; and
- An engineer who overcame drug and alcohol problems (that lead to DUI charges) 21 years ago, who got his rights back 11 years after petitioning the state.
Will November Change It All?
In the November election, Florida voters will have a chance to restore the right to vote to most felons after they complete their sentences (if at least 60 percent of the voters vote yes on Amendment 4 and as long as they were not convicted of murder or sex crimes). Amendment 4 passing could then also preempt the next clemency hearing held by Scott and the Cabinet, scheduled for early December.
The stakes are nothing short of extremely high here: Florida has an estimated 1.5 million felons who have been permanently stripped of their right to vote—the highest number in the nation. Approximately 10,000 have already filed appeals that are currently pending.
Florida Judge Orders Officials to Provide Sample Ballots In Spanish
Also in September, a federal judge ordered Secretary of State Ken Detzner to force local election officials to comply with the Voting Rights Act of 1965 and provide sample ballots in Spanish. This is, already, a significant move towards protecting the right to vote.
Contact Our Florida Criminal Defense & Civil Rights Attorneys
If you have had your civil rights taken from you as a result of being wrongfully accused of a crime, contact one of our experienced civil rights and criminal defense attorneys at the Baez Law Firm right away to discuss your options. We are here to ensure that you are protected, and we serve clients throughout Miami, Orlando, and surrounding areas.