Florida’s Systemic Felon Disenfranchisement Could End In November

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Written by Dana Sanchez

Florida has about 1.5 million felons who have permanently lost the right to vote — more than any other state. The Sunshine State is home to about a quarter of all disenfranchised U.S. voters.

Some never served prison time, but were on probation and did service work. Many had substance abuse problems that led to crimes, and have since recovered their health, but not their vote, Tampa Bay Times reported.

Disenfranchisement isn’t something that Gov. Rick Scott invented, but he’s a big fan.

“Florida has been stealing votes from Black people since the Civil War.” — The Intercept.

Scott was accused of creating “the disenfranchisement capital of America” by HBO host John Oliver of “Last Week Tonight,” who devoted 13 minutes to Florida’s clemency system. The show put the state’s clemency system under a national spotlight.

In November, voters get to decide whether to amend the Constitution and restore the right to vote for most felons (except those convicted of murder or sexual offenses) after they have paid their debt to society. The proposal is known as Amendment 4 on the Nov. 6 ballot.

disenfranchisement
Comparing Florida to the U.S. and other countries: Incarceration rate per 100,000 population.

A federal judge struck down a policy in effect since 2010 that anyone with a felony conviction in Florida must wait five years before petitioning the state to regain the right to vote, serve on a jury or possess a firearm. The policy remains in effect while Scott and the state appeal.

The five-year waiting period was implemented by Scott, Attorney General Pam Bondi and two other Cabinet members after their 2010 elections.

“One in 10 eligible voters in Florida are effectively disenfranchised” thanks to the law, Rachel Cohen wrote in The Intercept. “When it comes to Black voters, the numbers are even more grim: More than 20 percent of otherwise eligible black voters from Florida cannot cast a ballot. In total, more than a quarter of all disenfranchised felons in the entire country are in the Sunshine State.”

Iowa, Kentucky and Florida are the only U.S. states that indefinitely ban citizens with felony convictions from voting. Many states went in the opposite direction in the last 50 years. Maine and Vermont are the only two states that allow currently incarcerated people to vote.

The Democratic Party committed to restoring voting rights to formerly incarcerated for the first time in 2016 in its party platform. In Florida, constitutional amendments need at least 60 percent approval to pass.

Floridians energized by Democrat Andrew Gillum‘s nomination for governor “are likely to vote in favor of the amendment,” Cohen wrote. Gillum won a stunning upset victory in the Florida primary. His Republican opponent, Rep. Ron DeSantis, is opposed to the amendment.

Trevon Simmons, 38, served seven years in prison for an armed holdup of a store. He got out of prison in 2005. Now he runs a program in Fort Pierce, Fla., called Creating Tomorrow’s Leaders that helps young people stay out of trouble.

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Source: prisonpolicy.org

He asked for his voting rights back Tuesday at the state Capitol, during a five-hour clemency hearing that drew reporters and cameras from The Guardian, The Huffington Post, and NPR, among others. Typically, the hearings attract one or two members of the Tallahassee press corps, according to Tampa Bay Times.

“No matter your past, who you are and where you’re headed means a lot more,” Simmons said. “I wanted to vote in every election but couldn’t. It was like having to sit on the sidelines and watch a game you want to play in.”

Simmons said he takes full responsibility for his past behavior and didn’t mind having to work for years to regain his rights. Supporting him in his petition was the police chief of Fort Pierce, a Port St. Lucie County sheriff and Rep. Larry Lee, D-Port St. Lucie.