This November, Florida voters will choose a new governor in one of the nation’s most contested—and consequential—races. But if they look to the bottom of the ballot, they will also be asked to decide whether the right to vote should be granted to 1.5 million former felons who live in the state. With Iowa and Kentucky, Florida is one of just three states in the nation to automatically and permanently keep anyone who has committed a felony from ever voting again. A grassroots movement headed by former felons seeks to change that. Amendment Four’s two leading advocates and most dogged supporters make for strange bedfellows: Neil Volz, a white, conservative former congressional chief of staff who was sentenced to probation for his role in a lobbying scandal; and Desmond Meade, a black, formerly homeless man who served several years in prison for drug and weapon charges. Together, they are asking the state’s voters—citizens, they emphasize, just like them—for forgiveness.
For only the third time this year — but this time under a withering national media glare — Florida’s highest elected officials sat in judgment Tuesday of people whose mistakes cost them the right to vote. During a five-hour hearing, 90 felons made their case to Florida Gov. Rick Scott and three members of the Cabinet, asking to have their rights restored. It was a packed house in the Cabinet room of the state Capitol, as Tuesday’s hearing drew reporters and cameras from, among other outlets, NPR, The Huffington Post and The Guardian. The hearings typically attract one or two members of the Tallahassee press corps.
More than 1.5 million Florida residents are barred from voting in state elections for the rest of their lives, because of a tough law that permanently revokes voting rights for anyone convicted of a felony. But a measure on the November ballot could change that, allowing those who have served their time to cast votes as soon as the 2020 elections. The “Voting Restoration Amendment,” also called Amendment 4, was approved to be on the ballot back in January after gathering the requisite 766,200 signatures and would automatically restore voting rights to felons – murderers and sex offenders not included – who have done prison time, completed parole or probation and paid any restitution. Florida’s ballot measure is part of a broader move over the last few decades to restore voting rights to felons, but is the first to put it to voters to decide.
Illinois: Governor Blocks Bill To Tell People With Criminal Histories About Their Voting Rights | HuffPost
Illinois Gov. Bruce Rauner (R) blocked legislation on Friday that would have required corrections officials throughout the state to help people detained in jails and prisons understand whether they can vote. The bill would have required election and corrections officials to offer ballots to people being detained in jail prior to their trials who want to vote. It would have also required corrections officials to provide voter registration forms to people being released from jail and information about voting rights to those leaving prison. The bill was meant to reduce the confusion about voting rights that contributes to voter disenfranchisement. People detained in jails often have no idea they are eligible to vote, let alone how to request a ballot to do so. The policies governing whether felons can vote when they are released from prison vary widely from state to state. Offenders, as well as parole officers and other corrections officials, can easily be confused about who has the right to vote.
Millions of new voters could register across the country, starting Tuesday, with the launch of an online tool meant to help former felons restore their right to vote. The Campaign Legal Center’s website, restoreyourvote.org, attempts to guide users through a sometimes confusing jumble of state laws to determine whether past convictions or unpaid fines would keep them from the ballot box. It is the latest salvo in a growing movement to politically empower formerly incarcerated people, a group that is disproportionately African-American. It is unclear how much of an effect such efforts will have on elections because they are more likely to infuse urban areas that already lean left with more Democratic voters. But organizers have framed the issue as a question of civil rights.
Florida: Facebook Fight Over Florida Felon Voting Rights Restoration Ends in Shooting | Associated Press
A political argument on Facebook led to a 44-year-old Florida man driving to the home of a stranger he’d been arguing with and shooting and wounding him. Now Brian Sebring faces felony charges of aggravated battery with a deadly weapon and carrying a concealed gun. Sebring told the Tampa Bay Times he “just snapped and let primal rage take over” when he left work early on Monday, went home to get his gun and headed to the home of Alex Stephens. Sebring and Stephens, 46, had never met, though they live in the same neighborhood. “I’m not a bad guy,” Sebring told the newspaper, “but I mean, this guy threatened to hurt my family, and I went off the deep end.” Sebring said he’s probably going to see a therapist now because it scares him that “I could lose my temper like that and do something so stupid.”
In a legal showdown over voting rights in the political battleground state of Florida, a group of federal judges asked probing questions Wednesday about how voting rights are restored for some former prisoners but not others. At issue is whether Florida’s process of restoring voting rights to felons is unconstitutional. State officials defend their system, but critics call it arbitrary and unfair. “Is voting an expression protected by the First Amendment?” Judge Darren Gayles asked during Wednesday’s oral arguments in the case. Gayles was among a three-judge panel hearing the arguments at the 11th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in Atlanta.
The fate of about 1.4 million people will be at stake in November as Florida voters decide whether most convicted felons should have the right to vote. With the election less than four months away, supporters are organizing a statewide campaign to win voter approval of Amendment 4, which got on the ballot after an effective grass-roots organizing effort that lasted for several years. But passage is far from assured in a deep purple and closely-divided state where midterm or non-presidential elections typically draw low turnouts, where President Donald J. Trump remains popular, and where some voters may simply be turned off by a fatigue-inducing list of 13 ballot questions.
With arguments at a federal appeals court little more than a month away, attorneys for nine felons filed a 72-page brief Thursday urging the judges to find that Florida’s system of restoring felons’ voting rights is unconstitutional. The brief asked the 11th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals to uphold a ruling by U.S. District Judge Mark Walker that struck down the system. Arguments are scheduled July 25 at the appeals court in Atlanta. The restoration of felon rights has long been a controversial legal and political issue in Florida, and Gov. Rick Scott and Attorney General Pam Bondi changed the system after they took office in 2011 to effectively make restoration harder. Scott, Bondi, Agriculture Commissioner Adam Putnam and state Chief Financial Officer Jimmy Patronis serve as the state’s clemency board and make decisions about restoration.
Louisiana: Appeal challenging Louisiana Constitution felon voting rights law taken to state’s high court | The Advocate
A recent appeals court ruling that upheld the constitutionality of a 1976 Louisiana law barring felons on probation or parole from voting was appealed Friday to the state Supreme Court. The filing came eight days after Gov. John Bel Edwards signed into law a measure that allows people who have been out of prison for five years, but remain on probation or parole, to register to vote. Some 2,000 felons in Louisiana will have their voting rights restored in March as a result of the governor’s signing House Bill 265 into law, which passed during this year’s regular legislative session.