For only the third time this year — but this time under a withering national media glare — Florida’s highest elected officials sat in judgment Tuesday of people whose mistakes cost them the right to vote. During a five-hour hearing, 90 felons made their case to Florida Gov. Rick Scott and three members of the Cabinet, asking to have their rights restored. It was a packed house in the Cabinet room of the state Capitol, as Tuesday’s hearing drew reporters and cameras from, among other outlets, NPR, The Huffington Post and The Guardian. The hearings typically attract one or two members of the Tallahassee press corps.
Only two days before, Florida’s restoration of rights process was skewered on national TV by John Oliver of the HBO program Last Week Tonight. He devoted a 13-minute segment to the Florida clemency system, calling it “absolutely insane” and mocking Scott for creating “the disenfranchisement capital of America.”
Under a policy struck down by a federal judge that remains in effect while Scott and the state appeal, anyone with a felony conviction in Florida must wait five years before petitioning the state to regain the right to vote, serve on a jury or possess a firearm.
Florida has an estimated 1.5 million felons who have been permanently stripped of the right to vote, far more than any other state. To get their rights restored, they must formally apply to make an appeal before Scott and the Cabinet, which is now composed of Attorney General Pam Bondi, Agriculture Commissioner Adam Putnam and Chief Financial Officer Jimmy Patronis.