Voting rights advocates and civil rights attorneys cheered the Florida Supreme Court’s unanimous ruling Thursday approving language of a proposed amendment that would restore voting rights for convicted felons, saying the decision is a major step toward erasing a lingering vestige of Jim Crow. “It’s a game changer,” said Daniel Smith, a University of Florida political scientist who said the ruling could alter the state’s political landscape by opening elections up for hundreds of thousands of new voters. If supporters collect the needed signatures to get on the measure on the 2018 ballot, it could energize Democratic-leaning voters in a year when Florida will elect a new governor and a U.S. senator. The proposed measure still needs a total of 766,200 signatures before it can be placed on the 2018 ballot. The proposal has at leasts 71,209 so far, according to the state’s Division of Elections. Also, more than 60 percent of voters would then need to approve it in before it becomes law and voting rights would be restored. Despite those looming obstacles, the ruling was considered a major victory.
Articles about voting issues in Florida.
Florida: Bipartisan Effort To Help Restore Ex-Felons’ Rights Faster Could Be In The Works For 2018 | WFSU
Sen. Perry Thurston (D-Fort Lauderdale) and Sen. Darryl Rouson (D-St. Petersburg) are both carrying bills making it easier for ex-felons to have their civil rights restored to allow holding certain state licenses or voting. Thurston says the current process is flawed. Today, ex-offenders have to go before Governor Rick Scott and the Florida Cabinet—as the Executive Clemency Board—and ask that their rights be restored. “Under the previous administration’s attempt to reform restitution of rights, we had some 155,315 individuals who actually got their rights re-instated,” said Thurston. “Under the current administration, since 2011, we’ve only had 2,340. Basically what we’re saying is that it really shouldn’t be subjective to who’s in power in the Governor’s office.”
Desmond Meade is still waiting for the Florida Supreme Court to call him back after more than a month. The Supreme Court is expected to rule on the Voting Restoration Amendment sometime in April. Meade, director of the Florida Rights Restoration Coalition, argued in favor of the amendment and challenged the current re-enfranchisement process on March 6. The Voting Restoration Amendment is a citizens’ initiative amendment proposed by Floridians for a Fair Democracy that would restore voting rights to nonviolent felons upon completion of their sentences, including parole and probation. The Supreme Court will decide whether the amendment will be on the ballot in the 2018 election.
Florida: Voting access bill watered down after request from Duval elections chief Hogan | St. Augustine Record
Absentee ballots would be accepted at early voting sites under a proposal that has received unanimous support in two House committees and is scheduled for a floor vote in that chamber Wednesday. But the measure was watered down in the Senate Tuesday after a last-minute maneuver linked to Duval County Supervisor of Elections Mike Hogan, who won election by defeating the legislator sponsoring the House bill. Sen. Aaron Bean said that at Hogan’s request he filed an amendment to Senate Bill 726 that allows supervisors of elections to opt out of the practice of accepting vote-by-mail ballots at early voting sites. “They’ve asked that they have the flexibility to choose not to participate,” Bean, R-Fernandina Beach, told the Ethics and Elections Committee.
The Senate voted tentatively Tuesday to ask the voters next year whether Florida’s secretary of state should once again be an elective position. SJR 882, by Sen. Aaron Bean, would amend the state constitution to make the Secretary of State an elected member of the Cabinet beginning with the 2022 General Election. Identical legislation is pending in the House. The Senate action set up the measure for a final vote. Bean argued the state’s chief elections officer should be “accountable to the people.” Now, secretaries of state are appointed by the governor. If approved by a supermajority on the House and 60 percent of the voters, the amendment would take effect on June 1. That would allow the next governor to appoint someone following the 2018 election cycle.
A new lawsuit by a group of ex-felons seeks to change the strict Florida law that restricts voting rights for felons. The seven plaintiffs in the class action have sued Governor Rick Scott claiming the law restricting their rights is unconstitutional. The case is filed in the U.S. District Court for the Northern District of Florida. This suit was brought by the non-partisan Fair Elections Legal Network on behalf of the seven plaintiffs. It takes aim at the process by which they can seek to regain their voting rights. There is a backlog of more than 10,000 petitions to have voting rights restored. Over 1.6 million people in Florida have lost their voting rights, as the South Florida Sun-Sentinel cited research from The Sentencing Project. In many states, those convicted of felonies find their voting rights restricted. Florida, however, strips all former felons of voting rights. In 2011, Scott and Republican lawmakers enacted laws requiring felons to wait for five to seven years after their sentences are completed before even applying to have their voting rights reinstated. The Sentencing Project estimates that across America 6.1 million Americans have lost their voting rights.
A measure that would cut off one of the main avenues for challenging legislative redistricting plans was approved Wednesday by a House committee, alarming groups that fought maps struck down by the courts in recent years for political gerrymandering. The measure (HB 953), which was substantially broadened by an amendment filed Tuesday evening, passed the House Public Integrity & Ethics Committee on a 14-3 vote. The Senate has already approved a much-narrower version of the legislation (SB 352) that would set guidelines for what happens when redistricting legal cases are unresolved in election years.
President Donald Trump’s senior adviser Steve Bannon will not face charges related to his registration to vote in Miami despite spending most of his time elsewhere, South Florida prosecutors said Thursday. The Miami-Dade County State Attorney’s Office concluded in a memo that there was not enough evidence to prove any crime. Bannon registered to vote in the county on April 2, 2014, after leasing the first of two houses in Miami’s Coconut Grove neighborhood, then switched his registration to the Sarasota area last year. Bannon never voted in Miami-Dade County, the prosecutors said. They also said there was insufficient evidence to prove Bannon falsely claimed to reside in Florida on a voter registration form, which is a felony.
State Rep. Emily Slosberg has proposed legislation to make it illegal for candidates to go into people’s homes and help them fill out their vote-by-mail ballot, closing a loophole revealed in a recent Palm Beach Post investigation. Slosberg, D-Boca Raton, cited The Post’s story when she proposed an amendment Wednesday to make the practice a third-degree felony. But she withdrew the amendment for the time being at the recommendation of a colleague. The freshman legislator said she was alarmed by Post stories that revealed that Palm Beach County Commissioner Mack Bernard and state Rep. Al Jacquet, both Democrats, won their seats after entering people’s homes and helping them fill out vote-by-mail ballots. Although their behavior drew condemnation from experts who believe it’s an improper campaign tactic, Florida’s laws did not make it illegal.
The Florida Legislature is moving ahead with a fix to the state’s vote-by-mail ballot law that a federal judge called “illogical and bizarre.” The Florida House on Thursday unanimously passed a bill (HB 105) that requires county election offices to notify voters if their signatures on their ballot and voter registration forms don’t match. Voters would then be given a chance to fix the problem before the election. A similar measure is moving in the Senate.