How civil rights, including the right to vote is restored to people formerly incarcerated varies from state to state. In most states (39), individuals have their voting rights restored automatically at the completion of their sentences. In Maine and Vermont, people can vote while they are incarcerated. In others, voting rights are restored after their release. In the 2 states in which we work, Maryland restored voting rights to former felons in February, 2016. In only 4 states are voting rights permanently revoked unless restored by clemency. Of the 5 southern states that disfranchise voters due to felony convictions, Florida has been by far the worse, keeping fully 10% of its citizens permanently out of the voting booth.
In Florida, there still is an active effort to restore the rights of all formerly incarcerated people. Since 1868 Florida has barred people convicted of a felony from voting until they have had their civil rights restored. That process has never been an easy one. During his one term as governor of Florida, Charlie Crist negotiated a streamlined process to restore voting rights to former felons. Although limited in scope it was highly successful in the numbers of people returned to active citizenship. About 155,000 former felons had their voting rights restored under his rocess. When Rick Scott became governor, he rescinded that order and replaced it with a long, cumbersome clemency process in which almost no one had their civil rights restored. Under the Scott administration, individuals had to wait between 5 and 7 years after completing all conditions of their sentencing before they could even apply for restoration of their civil rights. Once a person applied to the Clemency Board, they may have to wait as long as 16 years before their application is investigated. From 2011 through the end of Rick Scott’s term as governor (8 years) only 1,534 ex-felons got their civil rights back. More than 11,000 were still waiting.
Here are the number of ex-felons given their voting rights back under previous governors:
You can read the entire Sun-Sentinel article here
Thanks to the great investigative work of the Florida ACLU and the League of Women Voters of Palm Beach County, we all have a better understanding of the effect Florida’s voter disfranchisement policies have on our democracy. A coalition of voting rights advocacy groups, along with Floridians For A Fair Democracy came together to work to get a referendum on the 2017 ballot to change that portion of the Florida Constitution. That referendum passed by a wide margin in the 2018 elections. One would think that was the end of the story. The voting rights of more than 1.4 million Floridians had been restored. But it was not to be as the battle continued. The Republican controlled Florida legislature added the additional condition to the referendum that requires all fines and fees to be paid before an individual’s rights could be restored. The case has been making its way through the court system since its passage.
Much is being done to continue to press for a voter rights restoration process that the voters voted for in 2018. Additionally, there has been an ongoing effort to raise money to help former felons to pay outstanding fines and fees. Even Michael Bloomberg has gotten involved in the fight. But Republicans continue to resist all efforts to restore people’s right to vote and become contributing members of their community.
The Center as well as our Navigating Barriers to Reentry Project continue to support voter enfranchisement. Check back often for updates.