Restore voting rights to people who have served their debts to society

Grant Miller, Publisher

Grant Miller, Publisher

It’s time we do something about Florida’s outdated and discriminatory policies that prevent former felons from being able to participate in civil society.

Right now, an estimated 6.1 million adults in the U.S. are unable to vote due to past felony convictions, according to the Sentencing Project.

And the state with the highest number of disenfranchised voters? You guessed it: Florida.

Roughly 2.5 percent of the country’s adult population is disenfranchised due to past felony convictions, according to the Roosevelt Institute. That’s one in 40 people. In Florida, the rate is more than one in 10.

Florida has nearly 1.7 million former felons unable to vote, according to a report by the Brennan Center for Justice. That’s more disenfranchised voters in one state than there were in the entire country 40 years ago.

For African Americans, the rate is a staggering 20 percent. Many, including ACLU National Political Director Faiz Shakir, have said this style of voter suppression is a holdover from Reconstruction-era legislation whose purpose was to establish a second-class category of citizens.

In 2007, former Gov. Charlie Crist eased the process for most convicted felons seeking to regain civil rights including the right to vote, serve on a jury, run for office and buy a gun. Those reforms were reversed by Gov. Rick Scott in 2011.

People with felony convictions in Florida currently cannot apply to restore their rights until seven years after they complete their sentence, probation and parole. They then must go through a difficult, complicated and inefficient process to reclaim their rights, known as clemency.

According to its 2016 report, the Florida Commission on Offender Review, which spends more than half its time reviewing clemency applications, has close to a $10 million annual budget. That’s generous funding for a review board that, according to a July report by the Miami Herald, only holds hearings four times a year, with fewer than 100 people able to plead their cases each time.

Further, fewer than 2,000 Floridians have had their voting rights restored since Gov. Scott’s election, with more than 20,000 applications still pending, according to the Brennan Center.

Many former felons have just stopped applying. A November 2016 report by the Sentencing Project found that the number of applications for civil rights restoration under Scott have plummeted by 95 percent since he took office. People are giving up their hopes of becoming full-fledged citizens again.

What’s worse is that restoring civil rights to past felons has shown to reduce their rate of reincarceration. A 2011 report by the Florida Parole Commission found that just 11% of former felons who regained their voting rights between 2009 and 2010 had reoffended and returned to prison—a recidivism rate almost two-thirds less than that of individuals whose right to vote wasn’t restored.

Fortunately, efforts are now underway to address this issue. Primary among them is the Florida Voting Rights Restoration for Felons Initiative, which seeks a constitutional amendment to return voting rights to people with prior felony convictions, except those convicted of murder or a felony sexual offense, upon the completion of their sentences. You can read more about it at secondchancesfl.org.

Another legislative effort in the works is a bipartisan bill filed by Rep. Cord Byrd (R-Jacksonville) that would allow past felons to petition judges to restore their civil rights. If enacted, the law could lead to a larger, more efficient and inclusive process.

Either would bring Florida up to speed with the rest of the country, which is moving toward more proactive measures in restoring rights to men and women who have paid their debts to society.

Voting, like paying taxes, is a civic duty. It unites us as people and makes us feel part of a greater whole. To vote is to have a say in one’s future and that of one’s children, not to mention the future of this incredible nation.

A person who has paid his or her debt to society, who seeks a second chance, deserves to be given one. Part of giving them that second chance is making them whole again as members of our community.


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14 Comments on "Restore voting rights to people who have served their debts to society"

  1. If you won’t follow the law then you can’t demand that you have the right to make the law for everyone else which is what you do when you vote. The right to vote can be restored but it should not be done automatically. It should be done only after the felon has shown he has turned over a new leaf. After all the unfortunate fact is that most felons will be returning to prison.

  2. Read that all Fines that are on the records of Felons have to be restituted before being permitted to Vote.The Moral Turpitude Act? Should the Fees for Tax Payer funded Public Defenders also be taken into account?

  3. The loss of the right to vote should be left in place. Anyone convicted of a felony has knowingly violated the law and is aware violating the law by committing a felonious act will result in the loss of certain privileges.
    Key word is “privileges”.
    Majority of folks with even an iota of common sense do not want convicted felons to perpetuate their misdeeds.

  4. I don’t agree that privileges should be automatically restored, and like the idea of the clemency review board to consider a felon’s true rehabilitation. It seems to me that privileges that were so callously disregarded should be earned again only by more effort that the mere passage of time spent in a prison. Repeat offenders need not apply. Cheers

  5. Why should convicted offenders have a choice in making laws or choosing people that make laws? The statistic mentioned in the article stating that only 11% of felons that had their rights restored returned to prison is a testament to the review process. It does not mean that the same percentage would follow if all felons were given the right to vote. The felons that actually applied to restore their voting rights serves as a filter of people that want to be contributing members of society. They might be considered “the cream of the felon crop”.

  6. Okay MR: miller, just be honest, you are looking for democrats votes!
    Check out Virginia and the former governor.

  7. The right to vote must be treated as an inalienable right that should never be revoked for any reason not a government granted privilege that can be taken away. There is no reason whatsoever not to allow people with past felony convictions or even those currently incarcerated in prison from exercising their right to vote in an election. Everyone is a part of society even if they are in prison. Allowing convicted felons to vote does not endanger the public in any way. The government must never be allowed to discriminate against or disenfranchise any group of people. The worst criminals are the corrupt politicians that get elected to public office most of whom are never punished or even prosecuted for their crimes. It’s also hypocritical to allow people with criminal histories the ability to run for public office yet deny people with criminal histories the right to vote. Allowing criminals to vote doesn’t threaten anyone but allowing criminals to be elected to and hold public office and gain control of taxpayer’s money does pose a threat to the public.

  8. Sadly, there are many who have been arrested for possession of marijuana for personal use and never convicted yet they have a record which keeps them from gainful employment. We should start with allowing these non criminals to remove their arrest from public view.

  9. Governor Scott should be in prison for Medicare fraud since the company he was CEO of committed Medicare fraud. I’m guessing the people that want to prevent past felons from voting are likely the same people who voted for Governor Scott who himself is a criminal that should be in prison not holding the highest public office in the State.

  10. The right to vote is a civil right and a responsibility. Restoring both to those who have fully paid their debts helps weave them back into the social fabric and reduces recidivism. Florida should join the vast majority of states and fully restore voting right to felons who have done their time.

  11. The right to vote should not be restored automatically but only after the felon has shown he has turned over a new leaf. If you’re not willing to follow the law then you should not have a role in making the law for everyone else, and unfortunately it can’t be automatically assumed that a felon has turned over a new leaf when he leaves prison because most will be returning soon.

    Courts have rejected the claim that Florida’s law was racially motivated, and the claim that voting cures recidivism is specious, as former US attorney general Michael Mukasey showed in a Wall Street Journal column years ago.

  12. Grant, I agree with you. Thank you for your insight on this issue.

  13. B. Marc Mogil, J.D. | January 18, 2018 at 11:58 am | Reply

    Dear Mr. Miller:

    [First, having the identical article published in two different spots in the same periodical will neither increase its readership, nor convince people of your erroneous arguments. (See, pages 1 and 26 of the January 15th issue of “The Sunny Isles Beach Community News.”)]

    As a former New York criminal felony trial judge for 10 years who has seen and dealt with all types of criminals, low-lifes, and feral recidivist scum, a few observations:

    Your advocating voting rights restoration for convicted Florida felons on the front page of your periodical is not only in contravention of the will of the Founding Fathers, but disavows our culture, heritage, and the will of the American people as evidenced by the elections of both Governor Scott and President Trump. If anything, these vermin deserve even less!

    The fact, dear Sir, is that there ARE now a grade of ‘second-class’ individuals….I wouldn’t even call them “citizens” since they abrogated that right when they committed a felony such as murder, child rape, violent armed robbery, or drug sales, et seq. They don’t deserve the right to vote, since they have evidenced a patent disregard for the norms of society. The only price they have paid is segregation from civilized people for a period of time. Everything else they just live with for the rest of their lives.

    Your piece seems to emanate from Democrat headquarters, since we all know —- like illegal immigrants who are granted amnesty and DACA individuals —- convicted criminals will overwhelmingly vote Democrat, since they stem from their traditional base of urban slums, street people, welfarites , and uneducated trailer-park denizens.

    Former Judge Marc Mogil

  14. Felons lost their right to vote because they were irresponsible. It is a life lesson and should be known by all citizens, that if they are irresponsible they loose the privilege to vote.
    Now, if what this act is really looking for is more voters, you have millions of LEGAL IMMIGRANTS (therefore, very responsible people) holding Green Cards. They should be able to vote!!
    In what the people of this country call third world countries, residents are able to vote for their state and city authorities, and for President when they become citizens.

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