A federal judge declared that the process for restoring voting rights to
felons in Florida is unconstitutional. In a strongly worded ruling, U.S.
District Judge Mark Walker said the disenfranchisement of felons who have
served their time is "nonsensical" and violates the First and
14th Amendments of the Constitution.
While the majority of U.S states don’t allow people who are serving
prison sentences to vote, only Florida, Iowa, Kentucky and Virginia do
not automatically restore voting rights after a person has completed their
Walker, who was appointed during the Obama administration, condemned Florida’s
requirement that a person with a felony conviction must "kowtow"
to a partisan panel known as the Office of Executive Clemency. According
to Walker, “[Elected], partisan officials have extraordinary authority
to grant or withhold the right to vote from hundreds of thousands of people
without any constraints, guidelines, or standards."
Speaking more about the Office of Executive Clemency, Walker stated, “"Its
members alone must be satisfied that these citizens deserve restoration.
... The question now is whether such a system passes constitutional muster.
It does not.”
Walker’s ruling is largely seen as rebuke of Republican Gov. Rick Scott.
The Tampa Bay Times reported that “Scott was the principal architect of the current
system that requires all felons to wait at least five years after they
complete their sentences, serve probation and pay all restitution, to
apply for [the] right to vote and other civil rights."
One clemency hearing in which Scott announced the panel "can do whatever
we want," was cited by Judge Walker as evidence of the arbitrary
nature of the Office of Executive Clemency. He also cited the case of
Steven Warner who admitted to voting illegally in the 2010 election. However,
when he admitted to Scott that he voted for him, he was promptly granted
the restoration of his voting rights.
Gov. Scott’s spokesperson, Jon Tubbs, released a statement that defended
the current system and hinted at the possibility of an appeal. "The
Governor believes that convicted felons should show that they can lead
a life free of crime and be accountable to their victims and our communities.
While we are reviewing today's ruling, we will continue to defend
this process in the court."
The current system used in Florida was implemented in 2011 and “reversed
a policy under which many felons, not including murderers and sex offenders,
had their rights restored without application process and hearings.
The lawsuit was brought on behalf of nine felons by voting rights group,
The Fair Elections Legal Network. Roughly 1.5 million Floridians are currently
ineligible to vote because of previous felony convictions.
However, Florida elections officials approved a November ballot measure
that if passed, will return to the pre-2011 system that would automatically
restore voting rights to convicted felons who have completed their sentences,
with exceptions for murders and serious sex offenders.
Are you a convicted felon? Do you have questions about restoring your voting
rights? We can help. Contact our St. Augustine team of criminal defense attorneys
to request a consultation today.