A federal judge in Florida has ruled that a state law prohibiting former convicted felons from voting is unconstitutional. “A person convicted of a crime may have long ago exited the prison cell and completed probation,” U.S. District Judge Mark Walker wrote. “Her voting rights, however, remain locked in a dark crypt. Only the state has the key — but the state has swallowed it.”
A handful of individuals applied for voting rights after completing their sentences but had those applications rejected. A voting rights organization, Fair Elections Legal Network, then sued Republican Florida Governor Rick Scott over the decision.
The current rules allow the governor and three Cabinet members to decide whether to reinstate a felon’s voting rights on an individual basis. Scott argued that the clemency board is outlined in Florida’s State Constitution, has existed for decades and has been overseen by multiple governors. About 3,000 former prisoners have had their voting rights restored since 2011, when the policy became active.
Walker found the process flawed. He cited evidence that race played a role in some individuals having their rights reinstated while others didn’t.
In November, Florida voters will vote on a constitutional amendment giving ex-cons voting rights immediately when they are released from the prison. The proposition needs sixty percent of the vote to pass.