An effort to restore voting rights for Florida felons has vocal advocates in Jacksonville. They’re celebrating after a federal judge Thursday ruled Florida’s ban on felons’ voting unconstitutional.
Jacksonville community activist Diallo-Sekou Seabrooks is running for city council and also ran a few years ago. He said while canvassing he’d run into people who said they would vote for him, but weren’t allowed to, due to a felony.
“We would go out registering people to vote and we would also go out with the restoration rights application,” he said.
Florida is one of four states that do not automatically restore voting rights once felons complete their prison sentences. Instead, Florida felons have to wait at least five years and complete any probation or restitution before they can apply to vote. Then it’s up to a four-member panel, with Governor Rick Scott having absolute veto power.
A federal judge ruled late Thursday that the process is unconstitutional. Seabrooks agrees.
“We’re talking about ending disenfranchisement,” he said. “We’re talking about empowering people through the power of voting.”
Tampa Bay Times-Miami Herald Tallahassee bureau Reporter Lawrence Mower said on the Florida Roundup Thursday, there’s a good chance the state will appeal, a process that could go on for years.
“So it’s unlikely that there will be any kind of decision or change to the process before November,” Mower said.
November is when voters will have the automatic rights restoration question on their ballots, meaning they could settle the question before a court does.
In response to Thursday’s ruling, John Tupps, a Scott spokesman, said in a statement, “The governor believes that convicted felons should show that they can lead a life free of crime and be accountable to their victims and our communities. While we are reviewing today’s ruling, we will continue to defend this process in the court.”
As NPR reported, Florida's current system, implemented in 2011, "reversed a policy under which many felons, not including murderers and sex offenders, had their rights restored without application process and hearings. According to the Brennan Center for Justice, 1.5 million Floridians are currently ineligible to vote due to past felony convictions.
Lindsey Kilbride can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org, 904-358-6359 or on Twitter at @lindskilbride