Ex-Felons Must Wait 5 Years, Then Ask for Right to Vote
Around the State
Before Wednesday, if a convicted felon in Florida wanted his right to vote restored, he or she would have to go through the appeals process. It's a process -- a system -- now embroiled in a vast backlog.
But during a Cabinet meeting Wednesday, Gov. Rick Scott and the Cabinet voted unanimously to change the process. Effective immediately, ex-felons will be required to wait five years after serving their time before they can make a formal request to have their voting rights restored.
The decision also decouples the right to vote with the right to apply for professional licenses.
Attorney General Pam Bondi, backed by law enforcement officers across the state, led the charge on the issue.
"This is about fundamental principles," she said. "I believe that if you are convicted of a felony, there should be an appropriate waiting time before your rights are restored, and I firmly believe that you should have to ask to have those rights restored. That is a privilege."
Bondi says the change will be a tool to help law enforcement and hopes it will allow the state clemency board to work through a backlog of more than 100,000 appeals during the five-year waiting period now set to go into effect.
While Bondi and Scott have affirmed their stance that the decision is "right," others -- for example, Rep. Alan Williams, D-Tallahassee -- argue the decision was rushed.
"Changing the rules will only add barriers to those who have paid their debt to society. I believe the governor and Cabinet made a rush decision and, in turn, have turned back the clock," said Williams.
“While I support efforts expressed by Attorney General Bondi to decouple occupational-license restoration legislatively, I, along with other members of the FCBSL, would have liked to work with the governor and Cabinet to explore other opportunities. Perhaps Florida should begin by measuring what progress has been made during the past four years in recidivism rates and employment gains of ex-felons whose rights have been restored."
Bondi argued that she has given plenty of time to vet the changes, citing the Cabinet meeting two weeks ago where she laid out her plan.
"I don't think there was anyone who I didn't meet with. I sat down and tried to explain at great length how strongly I feel about this. I listened to their concerns and I think there will be opportunities for us to work together in the future," she said.
Gov. Scott was also questioned on the timing of the vote.
"I think that's part of my job, that when I feel comfortable with a decision to go forward and announce the decision and start down the path," he said.
"A permanent loss of civil rights is part of the debt to society and so it's a privilege to get those rights back."
Rep. Ari Porth, D-Coral Springs, had previously proposed a resolution to give convicted felons an automatic restoration of civil rights. While that effort is supported by the ACLU, NAACP and his fellow Democrat supporters in the House and Senate, it has no support on the Republican side and is unlikely to get off the ground.
Reach Lane Wright at email@example.com or at (561) 247-1063.