Florida is one of four states in the union that permanently disenfranchise individuals convicted of a felony, even after they have paid their debt to society. As a result, there are 1.5 million people in the state who are barred from voting —20 percent of whom are black. The state does have a system through which the formerly incarcerated may apply to have their voting rights restored, but on Thursday, a federal judge ruled that system unconstitutional.
In November, Floridians will vote on a ballot initiative that could overturn the state’s disenfranchisement law. U.S. District Judge Mark Walker ruled that the state’s current method for restoring voting rights violates both the First and 14th amendments, Mother Jones reports.
Presently, felons who have served their time must apply individually to have their voting rights restored, and that can often involve pleading their case in person to the governor and his Cabinet.
From Mother Jones:
That practice, detailed in 2015 by Mother Jones, makes restoring a person’s suffrage a personal decision by top state officials. Governors often determine whether to restore a citizen’s voting rights based on unrelated matters, such as his religiosity or number of traffic citations. Sometimes, the voting rights group challenging Florida’s regime has argued in this case, Republican governors may be swayed to restore voting rights to ex-felons who will vote for Republicans.
Walker wrote in his opinion: “In Florida, 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. The question now is whether such a system passes constitutional muster. It does not.”
If you have paid your debt to society, you deserve to have your voting rights restored. How can you be expected to assimilate back into society and be a contributing member without being able to have a say in how that society is run? That is flat-out wrong.
Judge Walker’s ruling won’t automatically restore voting rights to felons, but it definitely makes the process of getting those rights restored a little easier.