As it has for decades, Florida stubbornly clings to an inhumane, inefficient and indefensible system of justice that permanently sentences more than 1.5 million residents to second-class citizenship. This state automatically revokes the right to vote for anyone convicted of a felony, and Gov. Rick Scott and the Cabinet are making it nearly impossible to persuade them to restore that right. Now the potential to modernize an archaic practice appears better than ever, and Florida cannot waste this opportunity. Over the next month, it will become clearer whether the most viable path to reform is through a yearslong voter petition drive for a constitutional amendment, the Constitution Revision Commission or the Florida Legislature. The most time-sensitive proposal is a ballot initiative that would ask voters to amend the Florida Constitution so voting rights would be automatically restored for nearly all felons who complete the terms of their sentences, including prison and probation.
Those convicted of murder or felony sex crimes would continue to be permanently barred from voting unless the governor and Cabinet restored their rights on a case-by-case basis. The group Floridians for a Fair Democracy is getting closer to placing the amendment on the November ballot, but the effort still needs tens of thousands of additional signatures to be certified by the state by a Feb. 1 deadline.
Other proposed amendments will start being considered as early as this week by the Constitution Revision Commission, a powerful panel that meets once every 20 years to propose constitutional amendments that go directly to the ballot. Two proposals would amend the Constitution to automatically restore voting rights upon completion of a sentence, with no caveats except to exclude those convicted of murder or sexual assault. A third proposal by Sen. Darryl Rouson, D-St. Petersburg, would provide for automatic restoration of voting rights but would expand the number of exclusions to include people convicted of other violent crimes such as robbery and kidnapping.