Editorial: Don’t Let Politics Take Precedence Over Voting Rights

This editorial by DJ 6 Minutes of WMBT 90.1 The BEAT! appeared in the May 25th edition of The Gainesville Sun.

In November, Florida voters will have an opportunity to finally put this state’s antiquated system of restoring the voting rights of former felons out to pasture.

Up to 1.7 million people in our state are permanently banned from voting due to a prior felony conviction on their record. This massive number includes people who have been convicted of crimes such as driving on a suspended license, and writing a bad check for something that costs the price of a set of Bluetooth headphones or a pair of the latest Air Jordans.

In Florida, nonsensically, earning back the right to vote takes years — and plenty of luck, too: for starters, there’s a minimum five-year wait to even request clemency, the process by which voting rights are restored. After that, there’s the possibility of another five years or more waiting for a call from the state’s Clemency Board, which works double duty as the Florida Cabinet. That’s because the board, which is the only entity in Florida possessing the power to consider clemency, only meets four times per year.

When the board convenes, they typically hear 100 cases or fewer at a time, and meetings regularly conclude with a fraction of those appeals granted. It’s no surprise then that there’s a growing backlog of more than 10,000 cases waiting to be heard.

Here’s another fun fact: The board is under no legal time constraint to hear any case. That means a former felon may as well add obtaining clemency to his or her bucket list, right along with going out on a date with Beyonce or climbing Mount St. Helens. Either could occur sooner than clemency.

Furthermore, if a former felon is lucky enough to get a hearing, thanks to the board’s rule of having no rules, his or her clemency application is subject to be denied for any reason at all — from party affiliation to perhaps even wearing the wrong tie and hanky combination at the hearing.

The odds of winning American Idol and PowerBall on the very same night might be lower than getting voting rights restored in Florida.

This is just wrong. Democracy isn’t supposed to function like that. Not in America, and not in Florida.

Recently, one of Florida’s federal judges agreed. Now it’s time for voters to dispose of this cumbersome process — which does nothing to strengthen our democracy, our communities or our safety — and replace it with a policy that is practical, fair and based on common sense.

Speaking of safety, statistics have shown that re-enfranchisement of felons actually reduces recidivism, which means fewer people not returning to jails, prisons or probation offices, but instead becoming productive and contributing members of the communities they live in.

No one wins when politics take precedence over voting rights, but that’s what’s happening in Florida right now. Former felons who have paid their debts to society have earned their right to a second chance. Let’s not continue to punish them with a burdensome voting ban that further complicates an already arduous pathway to starting over.

By the way, when we talk about former felons, let’s remember who we are discussing: our neighbors, co-workers, friends and loved ones as well. They are a part of our communities. And they should share in the voting process as well.

Voting impacts every facet of our lives, from the quality of the air we breathe to the safety of the food we eat. The vote is the most valuable tool any citizen possesses, and it’s a right that should be exempt from political parlor games.

Let’s welcome our friends, loved ones and neighbors who deserve that second chance back into our community. Vote yes for second chances. Vote yes on Amendment 4!

Mike “DJ 6 Minutes” Herring is a radio personality on WMBT 90.1 The BEAT.

Via: The Gainesville Sun