A bipartisan bill that would restore voting rights to Iowa felons who have completed their criminal sentences moved forward Monday in the Iowa House. Rep. Greg Heartsill, R-Chariton, co-sponsored the bill with Rep. Mary Wolfe, D-Clinton. They both agreed to move the bill to the full House Judiciary Committee. “I agree there should be a process as far as for allowing folks who have served their time, who have paid their restitution, for nonviolent felons to be reintegrated back into society, to give them a second chance, to reenfranchise them as far as their voice at the voting booth,” Heartsill says.
Florida’s legal battle over voting rights for ex-prisoners escalated on Monday, as the state and a voting rights organization representing former felons made dramatically different requests of a federal judge. Lawyers who have sued Florida want U.S. District Judge Mark Walker to order the automatic restoration of voting rights to anyone who has been out of prison at least five years. Walker ruled earlier this month that the state’s system of restoring voting rights to felons who have served their time is arbitrary and unconstitutional. Gov. Rick Scott, however, says that Walker should refrain from ordering the state to take any action. Instead the judge should leave it up to the governor and other state officials to decide how to change the current system.
The first time the Florida poet Devin Coleman voted was also his last. It was 2000, Gore v. Bush – when his was among millions of votes in play as the US Supreme Court called the winner and set the eventual arc of American affairs. Not long thereafter, Mr. Coleman was involved in a fight at a house party. His arrest led to eventual burglary charges, a prison sentence, and the revocation of his right to vote. Nearly two decades later, Coleman, now 39, is a father, published author, public speaker, and college graduate. But he says his disenfranchisement has shaded those successes.
The Arizona Secretary of State’s Office has begun revising its website and may also change its forms to make clear that first-time felons automatically get their voting rights restored when they complete their sentences, including paying any fines and restitution. The Campaign Legal Center found that the automatic process wasn’t clear on forms, which misleadingly implied that first-time felons had to go through a process that by law only applies to people with more than one felony conviction, the Arizona Capitol Times reported Wednesday. In a letter to Secretary of State Michele Reagan, the advocacy group noted the state’s website also did not provide any information about automatic restoration for first-time felons.
“The inaccurate or misleading information on these forms assuredly leads many citizens of Arizona not to exercise their constitutionally protected right to vote,” the group told Reagan.
The group is looking at other states’ voter registration forms to ensure they display adequate information, said Danielle Lang, an attorney with the center.
Already it has found six states, including Arizona, that have issues with their forms. Currently, the form in Arizona reads that people cannot register to vote in the state if they “have been convicted of a felony and have not yet had civil rights restored.” It doesn’t elaborate on the distinction between a first-time felon and a repeating offender.
In November 1865—barely six months after Appomattox, and three weeks before the official ratification of the Thirteenth Amendment—the New York Tribune’s front page bore a provocative headline: “South Carolina Re-establishing Slavery.” The story laid out the new system being put into place in most of the former Confederacy—“Black Codes,” criminal laws targeting black citizens, coupling a long list of minor offenses with a schedule of prohibitive fines. If a black defendant could not pay the fine, he or she was to be “contracted out” to work off the “debt” for some white employer. (In some of the codes, a “debtor’s” black children would also be “apprenticed,” with preference given to the families of their former “masters.”) The new system, a Confederate veteran explained to Chicago Tribune correspondent Sydney Andrews, would “be called ‘involuntary servitude for the punishment of crime,’ but it won’t differ much from slavery.”
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.”
No state comes close to disenfranchising its citizens at the rate Florida does. By doing so, the state extends the iniquities of Jim Crow into the modern era to the detriment of minority and, for the most part, Democratic voters. Now, after years of serving as an anti-democratic model, Florida appears about to see its voters drag it into the 21st century. They should. Of 6.1 million former felons who remain barred from voting across the United States, more than a quarter of them — nearly 1.7 million — are Floridians. It is one of just three states that permanently bars all felons from voting unless their rights are individually restored following an arduous, years-long process. The result: More than 10 percent of voting-age adults, and more than 20 percent of African Americans, have no access to the ballot box in Florida. You read that correctly: 1 in 5 black adults in Florida cannot vote.
Florida: Floridians will vote this fall on restoring voting rights to 1.5 million felons | Orlando Sentinel
Florida voters will decide this fall whether 1.5 million felons will get their voting rights back. Floridians for Fair Democracy, led by Desmond Meade, of Orlando, successfully gathered more than 799,000 certified signatures in their years-long petition drive, just a week before the deadline to reach the required total of about 766,000. Because of that, the state on Tuesday certified the initiative for the Nov. 6 ballot. If approved by 60 percent of voters, the amendment would restore voting rights to Floridians with felony convictions after they fully complete their sentences, including parole or probation. Those convicted of murder or sexual offenses would continue to be barred from voting.
Florida: Amendment to restore felons’ voting rights on Florida 2018 ballot | News Service of Florida
More than 1.5 million Floridians now unable to participate in elections would automatically have their voting rights restored, under a proposed constitutional amendment that will go before voters in November. The “Voting Restoration Amendment,” which was approved Tuesday to appear on the ballot as Amendment 4, would automatically restore voting rights to felons who have served their sentences, completed parole or probation and paid restitution. Murderers and sex offenders would be excluded. Floridians for a Fair Democracy, the political committee behind the petition drive, this week surpassed the requisite 766,200 signatures to put the proposed amendment on the November ballot.
Two proposals that would automatically restore voting rights to felons who have served their sentences were approved Thursday by a Florida Constitution Revision Commission panel. In a 6-2 vote, the commission’s Ethics and Elections Committee approved a measure (Proposal 7), sponsored by former Sen. Chris Smith of Fort Lauderdale, that would automatically restore voting rights to felons who have served their prison time and completed any probation or parole requirements. Felons convicted of murder or sexual offenses would be excluded. In another 6-2 vote, the panel endorsed a measure (Proposal 21), sponsored by Sen. Darryl Rouson, D-St. Petersburg, that would also automatically restore felons’ voting rights after sentences are completed.