Florida’s legal battle over voting rights for ex-prisoners escalated on Monday, as the state and a voting rights organization representing former felons made dramatically different requests of a federal judge. Lawyers who have sued Florida want U.S. District Judge Mark Walker to order the automatic restoration of voting rights to anyone who has been out of prison at least five years. Walker ruled earlier this month that the state’s system of restoring voting rights to felons who have served their time is arbitrary and unconstitutional. Gov. Rick Scott, however, says that Walker should refrain from ordering the state to take any action. Instead the judge should leave it up to the governor and other state officials to decide how to change the current system.
“Officials elected by Floridians, not judges, have the authority to determine Florida’s clemency process for convicted felons,” said John Tupps, a spokesman for Scott. “This is outlined in Florida’s Constitution and has been in place for more than a century and under multiple gubernatorial administrations.”
Florida’s constitution automatically bars felons from being able to vote after leaving prison. The state’s clemency process allows the governor and three elected Cabinet members to restore voting rights, although the governor can unilaterally veto any request. The rules used to decide who is eligible for rights restoration is left up to the governor and Cabinet and have been changed over the years.
Florida was sued on behalf of ex-felons whose requests for voting rights were turned down.