Should Felons Be Allowed to Vote? GOP, Dems Duke It Out
Around the State
Republicans and Democrats clashed Thursday in Tallahassee on restoring civil rights to convicted felons.
Florida is one of the handful of states that denies convicted felons the vote even after their sentences have been completed. Backed by organizations including the NAACP and the ACLU, Democratic legislators, led by Rep. Ari Porth, D-Coral Springs, spokeThursday on a proposed resolution that would allow the public to vote whether to automatically restore voting rights for convicted felons.
With more than 100,000 Floridians in limbo as they await hearings from the state clemency board for a restoration of voting privleges, Porth and the resolution's supporters -- which include fellow Democrats Sen. Arthenia Joyner of Tampa, Sen. Chris Smith of West Palm Beach and Rep. Dwayne Taylor of Daytona Beach -- maintain that their proposal could help clear the backlog.
But the proposal received strong criticism from a prominent Florida Republican -- Attorney General Pam Bondi.
Bondi, fresh off a meeting of the state clemency board on Thursday, announced her opposition to the automatic restoration of the civil rights of convicted felons.
“I fundamentally and philosophically oppose the concept of the automatic restoration of civil rights,” said Bondi. “I believe that every convicted felon must actively apply for the restoration of his or her civil rights and that there should be a mandatory waiting period before applying. The restoration of civil rights for any felon must be earned, it is not an entitlement.
“When the Florida Board of Executive Clemency reconvenes for a special meeting in two weeks, it is my hope that the board enacts revised rules that protect Floridians while creating a fair process to restore deserving felons’ rights,” added Bondi. “The burden of restoring civil rights should not fall on the shoulders of government, but rather it should rest on the individual whose actions resulted in those rights being taken in the first place.”
Porth quickly returned the fire back on Bondi for opposing the resolution.
“The application process to restore rights in Florida is broken,” said Porth. “Instead of making the application process seamless and less costly to taxpayers, Attorney General Bondi proposes new obstacles. Florida leaders need to eliminate the red tape upon a person’s sentence being served, and allow these individuals to vote and be a more fully functioning member of their community.”
Porth’s proposal has won the support of the Florida Rights Restoration Coalition which claims that the current statute prevents almost 1 million Floridians from voting.
While there were some attempts to lift some of the voting restrictions backed by former Gov. Charlie Crist, the state has long restricted ballot access to convicted felons.
For example, Article XIV, Section 2 of the 1868 version of the state Constitution, passed during Reconstruction, stated: “No person under guardianship non compos mentis, or insane, shall be qualified to vote at any election, nor shall any person convicted of felony be qualified to vote at any election unless restored to civil rights.”
While the 1885 state Constitution was a drastic change from the one approved in 1868, the ban on felons voting remained in place with much the same language.