Can Florida claim to be a democracy when one out of every 10 of adult citizens in the state are denied the right to vote because some time in their lives they were convicted of a felony? And 75 percent of those people are out of prison and otherwise living as free members of the community? Florida is one of a handful of states that impose a lifetime voting ban on convicted felons. Their right to vote can only be restored on a case-by-case basis with the approval of the governor and two members of the Board of Executive Clemency — the cabinet — on a petition filed five years after release from prison. Since Scott’s election in 2010, only 2,487 petitions have been granted. Only a few other states come even close to disenfranchising so many ex-felons.
If there is any doubt of the reasons behind these numbers, which have been compiled by the nonpartisan Sentencing Project, be aware that the overwhelming number of the disfranchised are African American. Indeed, more than one in five black Floridians is affected. And if anyone thinks this is unrelated to demography, know that there are two states that allow convicted felons to vote even while they are in prison — the very white Maine and Vermont. Most other states restore voting rights immediately after release from prison or after parole and/or probation is completed.