Voting Rights

Felons Who Want Their Voting Rights Back Are Getting Unconstitutionally Screwed, Says Judge

The state uses a panel of partisan officials with absolute discretion to determine who gets to vote again

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A federal judge in Florida has ruled that the state's procedure for restoring the voting rights of felons is unconstitutional.

In Florida, conviction for any felony automatically results in a lifelong loss of the right to vote. Currently, the only available path for a felon wishing to have his voting rights restored is to apply to the Executive Clemency Board, which is composed of the state's governor, attorney general, chief financial officer, and agriculture commissioner, and has total standardless discretion as to whether to restore the franchise.

In an opinion ruling on cross-motions for summary judgment, U.S. District Judge Mark Walker held that the complete absence of written guidelines constraining panel members' discretion violated the First and Fourteenth Amendments of the federal Constitution.

Calling its legal reasoning "nonsensical," Walker rejected Florida's argument that the the 14th Amendment's recognized allowance for felon disenfranchisement confers authority on a state governor to grant or deny re-enfranchisement for any reason. On the contrary, he said, the decision whether to restore voting rights cannot be based on its approval or disapproval of an applicant's exercise of their First Amendment rights. Walker suggested that on at least one occasion, Florida governor Rick Scott (R) may have violated this principle by restoring the vote to a man who claimed to have voted for him.

Walker's reasoning, if not rejected by higher courts, could set an important precedent for challenges to other states' clemency and re-enfranchisement processes, which often scrutinize ex-convicts' post release conduct in ways that could implicate First Amendment rights. Many clemency boards, for example, reject applications from those who continue to maintain their innocence— an activity likely protected by the First Amendment.

The judge also noted that the implementation of the challenged clemency system in 2011 coincided with a sharp drop in granted applications for re-enfranchisement. Under the prior system (which did not require an application process or hearings) 154,000 felons had their voting rights restored during the final four-year term of Republican governor Charlie Crist.

But under the Executive Clemency Board system, which Scott implemented upon taking office, only 3,000 applications have been granted in eight years.

Florida currently disenfranchises a higher portion of its population than any other state, with 10% of all adults and 21% of African-Americans barred from voting due to a felony conviction.

Walker's order does not specifically address how Florida must change its re-enfranchisement system in order to comply with the Constitution, but orders the parties to submit briefings on possible remedies by February 12. A spokesman for Scott's office has suggested that the state may appeal the ruling.

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  1. We could also go the route of having fewer felonies.

  2. This judge’s reasoning cpuld also implicate “may issue” pistol permits.

  3. As a left-libertarian, I believe felons should vote not only after their release, but even while they’re in prison. And it honestly has nothing to do with any expectation that they will, more often than not, vote Democrat. I just think unrestricted felon voting is the fairest system.

    1. Hilarious. In his/her/xe’s trolling, OBL here just implicitly assumes it is the duty of libertarians to stop Democrats from winning. So libertarians should be opposed to restoring voting rights for felons if it means Democrats might benefit?

      1. Libertarians are all closet Republicans. Everyone on the left knows this.

    2. Will, if they’re a felon we certainly know who they are. That removes the Republican concern of illegally that vote.

  4. At the very least, those convicted of tax evasion should get to vote in prison, based on the 24th Amendment.

    24th Amendment:
    The right of citizens of the United States to vote in any primary or other election for President or Vice President for electors for President or Vice President, or for Senator or Representative in Congress, shall not be denied or abridged by the United States or any State by reason of failure to pay any poll tax or other tax.

  5. “the Executive Clemency Board, which is composed of the state’s governor, attorney general, chief financial officer, and agriculture commissioner

    umm wut?

    1. Everyone knows that the Ag Commissioner has all the nuts.

    2. Yep, my first thoughts; The CFO & the agriculture commissioner??!!??

      1. It’s basically the Governor and Cabinet.

        The meetings of the Governor and Cabinet are chaired by the Governor, currently Rick Scott, and consists of three cabinet members:

        Chief Financial Officer, currently Jimmy Patronis
        Attorney General, currently Pam Bondi
        Commissioner of Agriculture, currently Adam Putnam,

        Each member is popularly elected by the state and carries one vote in executive decisions. In the case of a tie, the vote cast by the Governor decides the outcome.

  6. Wait, 10% of adults are felons? Holy crap! That is a huge number.

    1. Do you smell that? That is the smell of winning the drug war. At least, that’s what we’re told.

  7. I’ll note that the legally strongest “fix” to the system would be to abolish re-enfranchisement entirely, since that would not implicate anyone’s First Amendment rights in any way.

  8. Mind you, I feel they should NEVER get them back, so I’m all for doing away with the boards and just saying “Nope” to all requests.

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