A U.S. District Court on Thursday ruled as unconstitutional Florida’s current system for restoring voting rights to ex-felons, potentially heralding major changes for disenfranchised voters. Judge Mark Walker ruled that the current system violates both the First and 14th Amendments. Walker noted in his ruling that “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.” “Florida strips the right to vote from every man and woman who commits a felony,” Walker wrote. “To vote again, disenfranchised citizens must kowtow before a panel of high-level government officials over which Florida’s governor has absolute veto authority. No standards guide the panel. Its members alone must be satisfied that these citizens deserve restoration.”
More than 1.5 million Floridians are currently unable to vote due to the state policy to permanently disenfranchise convicted felons. The judge’s ruling will not affect the automatic voting disenfranchisement in place.
Floridians will instead vote in November on a proposed amendment to the state constitution that would bar the practice and must get 60 percent of the vote to pass.