Florida has the most restrictive laws regarding felony convictions and voting rights in the country: any felony conviction in the state carries with it the penalty of losing the right to vote, carry a gun, serve on a jury or run for public office.
And those laws don’t just impact people convicted of violent crimes. People who have been charged with crimes as seemingly minor as writing a bad check or even driving on a suspended license more than once are affected as well.
But there are individuals and groups working to change that.
Currently, there are proposals to amend the state Constitution to allow people who have been convicted of felonies the right to vote in Florida.
There is also a bill that would allow local judges the power to restore individual rights.
In the vast majority of U.S. states, after someone has completed their sentence, their rights are automatically restored without the need to petition anyone or visit a courthouse.
That’s almost what former Governor Charlie Crist had in mind when he began the process of restoring ex-felon voting rights after he took office in 2007.
— Charlie Crist (@CharlieCrist) September 21, 2014
When current Governor Rick Scott took over, however, he stopped that process in its tracks.
In its place, Scott reinstituted an arduous, nearly useless, almost 10 year-long process that requires people seeking to have their rights restored petition for a clemency hearing in front of the entire Florida Cabinet.
And there’s no guarantee you’ll ever get seen by them. The average wait in case you do–9.2 years, according to reports.
Some might deny that Florida’s draconian voting restrictions aren’t rooted in the deeply racist politics of the Old South, but everybody knows that they are.
Coincidentally, Florida was also one of the states impacted by the 1965 Voting Rights Act.
What’s even more undeniable is the fact that those laws disproportionately affect Blacks more than any other group: at least 1 out of every 5 African-Americans in Florida cannot vote, sit on a jury or hold public office.
That means fewer people of color being able to have a voice in their own communities.
And fewer Black faces sitting on juries.
Advocates working for a fairer voting rights process include Jacksonville’s Devin Coleman, the ACLU, Orlando’s Desmond Meade, and his organization, Floridians For A Fair Democracy. They are making an impact.
Recently, a Republican legislator introduced a bill that would allow local judges to reinstate ex-felon rights as well, which shows that the effort to restore ex-felon rights isn’t just about politics or race.
Floridians For A Fair Democracy has been working hard to collect enough signatures to place a referendum on the ballot in 2018 that would allow voters to determine the fate of voting rights restoration.
Unfortunately, their effort has thus far fallen short of their intended goal to reach 1 million signatures, so they need help for this extremely worthwhile effort.
To find out more information, including how you can add your signature to the growing list of second chance supporters, please visit: