While Florida leaders wait to hear from an appeals court, one man says voters should decide the issue of felons’ rights

by | Apr 25, 2018

State leaders continue to wait for word from the 11th Circuit Court of Appeals out of Atlanta on whether it will grant a stay in the case involving the way Florida restores the voting rights of convicted felons.

U.S. District Judge Mark Walker ruled earlier this year that the system is “fatally flawed” and unconstitutional. Walker gave the state until tomorrow, April 26, to come up with an alternative process.

The state has appealed that ruling and has asked for a stay of Thursday’s deadline to change the process.

While the next 24 hours might be critical in terms of the current process, November 6 could be crucial for bringing about permanent change to the system.  That’s when voters will be asked to decide on Amendment 4, which would permanently place in the Florida Constitution the automatic restoration of a convicted felon’s voting rights in most cases.

Desmond Meade, the man largely responsible for gathering the nearly 800,000 voter signatures to get the measure on the ballot this fall, wants the appeals court to grant a stay until the voters can decide the issue come November.

“Through a grassroots movement, Floridians put Amendment 4 on the ballot to fix the current, broken system and take these decisions out of the hands of politicians,” Meade said in a statement. “The problem is that without Amendment 4, any fix still leaves this decision in the hands of politicians and a person’s eligibility to vote should not be left up to politicians and election cycles.”

The state constitution currently bans automatic restoration of a convicted felon’s rights. Judge Walker’s ruling focused on the process of deciding who should have their rights restored.

Under the state’s current system, felons must wait five years after completing their sentences before they are allowed to apply to have their civil rights restored. The process can take years after that initial waiting period to complete.

Florida is one of only four states that leave felons completely disenfranchised in terms of their right to vote even after they have served their time. It’s estimated that 1.5 million Floridians have been disenfranchised.

Amendment 4 would change the constitution to grant the automatic restoration of rights to most former prisoners.

Meade is president of the Florida Rights Restoration Coalition (FRRC). He is a convicted felon who turned his life around after leaving prison and went on to become a lawyer. He told Fox News last week that he believed most people are forgiving.

“We know at the core of most Americans is that concept of forgiveness, redemption, and restoration. At the core, we know that once a debt is paid, it’s paid. And the American citizen should be allowed to move on with their life.”

Polls show Amendment 4 receiving strong support from Floridians, in some cases receiving the support of more than 70 percent of the voters surveyed. It needs 60 percent of the vote in order to be pace in constitution.

“Never before has Florida seen such a huge grass-roots movement, and we did,” Meade says. “These people rallied from all political spectrums, all walks of life, they rallied around this and said, ‘We, as citizens of Florida, are going bring sunshine back to this state.’”

Scott has called for a rare evening meeting of the Clemency Board in the event the 11th Circuit Court of Appeals doesn’t grant the stay. The board, which is made up of the governor and members of the Cabinet, would meet at 9:30 p.m. to discuss how to respond to tomorrow’s deadline by Judge Walker to establish a new voter rights restoration system for ex-felons.





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