The truth about Florida's felon voting amendment

Organizations pushing for Florida to ease the process by which felons get their right to vote restored are not being honest.

October 30, 2018
By Bert Peterson

In its 2018 ballot, Florida includes a proposed constitutional amendment that would reinstate voting rights to felons (excluding murderers and sexual felony offenders) upon completion of their sentences. Surprisingly, its sponsor, Floridians for a Fair Democracy, does not have a website. In mailings, however, it argues that Florida should replace its "broken" system that "impose[s] a lifetime ban on voting for all past convictions." Such a statement also appears at the website of another organization with ties to FFD, called Second Chances. A screenshot of such:
The statement is not true.
Florida does not "permanently exclude" felons from voting; there is no "lifetime ban."
Under the current system, felons must, depending on their crime, wait five to seven years to apply to a state board for the reinstatement of their voting rights.
Perhaps FFD and S.C. believe they are nonetheless entitled to lie because, under Republican Gov. Rick Scott's administration, the voting rights of only about 4,350 felons were reinstated. (About 10,000 applications are pending.) Given the number of felons in Florida, these advocacy organizations might argue that, for practical purposes, it is as good as a lifetime ban. That may – except for 4,350 felons – be true. (Don't forget the more than 150,000 reinstated under Scott's predecessor, Republican-turned-Democrat Charlie Christ.)
FFD and S.C. could, perhaps, make that argument. What they could have also done, however, is simply have stated the truth: that, under the current discretionary system, under Scott, only 4,350 reinstatements have been made. (And only 150,000 under Crist.) They could have simply provided the facts and let the voters decide. They didn't.
The website also talks about felons "giving back to their communities," about having a "second chance," as if, without the vote, these would not be possible. (Indeed, as far as meaningful second chances go, they come not from the vote, but from the economy. During the Scott years one million people moved, not to some enlightened state with automatic voting reinstatement, but to Florida, where, because of the economy, there really are "second chances.")
FFD and S.C. also make the galling claim that, in completing their sentences, felons "have paid their debt." (Excluding, that is, for some unexplained reason, murderers and sexual felony offenders.) They do not say how this debt was paid and to whom; they just repeat the slogan. They don't explain, because there is no such payment. The purpose of confining felons is not so they pay any debt, but to punish them, and to protect society.
To the extent that it is possible for a felon to pay a debt, he can do so only by providing restitution to the victims for the injury or loss he inflicted, and to the taxpayers, for the expense of the trial and incarceration they incurred. Any felon who did this – who actually did voluntarily pay the debt he incurred – could do no more to demonstrate his acceptance of responsibility for his crime, and his vote should be reinstated.
Even in that case, we cannot necessarily say the felon paid his debt to society, for there are some debts that go beyond financial injury and are unpayable. Felonies include kidnapping, burglary, armed robbery, abuse of children, drug-trafficking, and others. Because of kidnappers, mothers throughout the nation are apprehensive and must restrict the activities of their children accordingly. Kidnappers are responsible for such anxiety and can never escape that responsibility.
Under the current system, we leave open the possibility of change – for the state to consider, and for the offender to consider. Under the proposed amendment, reinstatement of the right to vote is not a possibility; it is guaranteed.