Voting Reform in FL Still Moving Too Slowly

Americans who are convicted of crimes do not lose their citizenship, are not relieved of their obligation to pay taxes, and should be just as entitled to participate in the democratic process as everyone else. In Florida, however, even after felons are released from prison and from supervision, even after they've paid their fines and made restitution, there are still barriers to voting. Those barriers stem from an ugly history of disenfranchising black voters.

The issue of voting rights here has long been intertwined with race. The ban on voting by felons became part of the state Constitution in 1868, when many Southern states found ways to suppress black votes in the wake of the Civil War.

Florida's Gov. Charlie Crist has advocated a measure of reform that, since April, has reinstated voting rights for 115,232 ex-offenders. But 80 percent of them remain disenfranchised. [more ...]

The newer rules create a three-tiered system for ex-convicts, based on the severity of their crimes. Those who have completed sentences and probation for the least violent, Level 1 offenses since April can have their rights restored without having to fill out paperwork, after the state confirms payment of restitution.

Of the 115,232 who have regained their rights, the vast majority are older cases that preceded the law. But most of the state’s estimated 950,000 felons must request reinstatement.

A reinstatement request can take years to process. Why?

[L]iberal groups have accused the state’s Republican-controlled government of retaining the policy in an effort to keep blacks, who tend to vote Democratic, from registering.

Gov. Crist bases his call for reform upon his belief in the value of redemption.

“Once somebody has truly paid their debt to society, we should recognize it, and we should honor it and we should welcome them back into society and give them that second chance,” Mr. Crist told a crowd of law enforcement officials and advocates for prisoners’ rights in Tallahassee.

It is the voting system in Florida that needs redemption, in the form of additional change. Civil rights are restored automatically in most states after completion of a sentence. Florida needs to follow that example if it wants to move past the vestige of post-Civil War vote suppression.

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  • Display: Sort:
    Level 1 offenders (5.00 / 1) (#1)
    by befuddledvoter on Wed Jun 18, 2008 at 10:22:13 AM EST
    must first pay restitution?  Is this not a form of a poll tax????  Does this not discriminate against poor people?  

    Not a poll tax (none / 0) (#8)
    by CoralGables on Wed Jun 18, 2008 at 07:25:30 PM EST
    I believe the financial restitution refers to court ordered compensation for the victims from the original court case.

    Yes, I see that (none / 0) (#11)
    by befuddledvoter on Thu Jun 19, 2008 at 08:01:04 AM EST
    and I also think there is a waiver provision.  Prior version did have such.  However, effectively speaking, if you can't pay up, you cannot vote.

    What has really changed? (5.00 / 1) (#2)
    by Carolyn in Baltimore on Wed Jun 18, 2008 at 12:09:44 PM EST
    Looks like they said they fixed it, let a few more ex-felos vote, and kept the rest of the bad system intact. Add to that the not letting people vote who share a felon's name etc (Choicepoint), and there are still a million disenfranchised potential voters.

    I would prefer (5.00 / 1) (#4)
    by standingup on Wed Jun 18, 2008 at 12:28:07 PM EST
    to see federal legislation to address the voting rights of ex-felons.  Leaving it to the states is not working and we will continue to see more delays and tricks until something is done on the national level.  

    Like a Turtle (5.00 / 1) (#7)
    by CoralGables on Wed Jun 18, 2008 at 07:20:32 PM EST
    It's a slow improvement but still an improvement.

    Progress has been made in this area after Jeb Bush left office. They are making it difficult however, and don't expect any major improvement if at all until after November.

    I read the story when it (none / 0) (#3)
    by hairspray on Wed Jun 18, 2008 at 12:12:49 PM EST
    first appeared.  As I understand it, nonviolent offenders will get their rights back quite quickly, but other more egregious offenders must still petition for voting rights.  This involves a voting panel of some sort.  This still isn't ideal, but I read about Governor Crist's decision with a panel of 3 and it was 2-3 with his vote.

    Davis Bacon (none / 0) (#5)
    by Abdul Abulbul Amir on Wed Jun 18, 2008 at 03:33:51 PM EST

    Those barriers stem from an ugly history of disenfranchising black voters.

    Are you going to denounce Davis Bacon that has an ugly history of discriminating against black workers?

    I'm curious if anyone (none / 0) (#9)
    by Grace on Thu Jun 19, 2008 at 12:48:33 AM EST
    has any idea of what the demographics are of the felon population in Florida?  Can someone find a link to this information?

    Secondly, I have a problem with this:

    But most of the state's estimated 950,000 felons must request reinstatement.

    The entire population of Florida is 18,000,000 and this includes children under the age of 18.  Even if all 18 million were adults, this would mean that approximately one out of every 18 people was a felon.  Maybe I'm crazy, but that seems a little high to me?    

    Local (none / 0) (#10)
    by Abdul Abulbul Amir on Thu Jun 19, 2008 at 07:52:49 AM EST

    More accurately, the legislative history of Davis-Bacon reflects a desire by Congress to reserve jobs on federal projects for local workers, who nationwide faced epidemic unemployment.

    Local at the time was for code for white.  Thanks for the confirmation.

    And it works today.

    Minimum wages always favor those with the better education and skill sets, and disfavor those with poorer education and skill sets.  Now, just which race tends to get the lesser quantity and lesser quality of education?

    A few quotes from the time. (none / 0) (#12)
    by Abdul Abulbul Amir on Thu Jun 19, 2008 at 08:39:22 AM EST
    Rep. Clayton Allgood of Alabama denounced "cheap colored labor . . . in competition with white labor throughout this country." Commissioner of Labor Statistics Ethelbert Stewart, in a submission to Congress, described the problem in part as "gangs of Southern Negro labor carried around from state to state."

    W.E.B. Du Bois lamented in 1929 that "instead of taking the part of the Negro and helping him towards physical and economic freedom, the American labor movement from the beginning has tried to achieve freedom at the expense of the Negro."


    At a time when unions routinely excluded blacks, then requiring union wages was a defacto exclusion of blacks.  

    Is that so? (none / 0) (#14)
    by Abdul Abulbul Amir on Thu Jun 19, 2008 at 01:16:56 PM EST

    Except that the Davis-Bacon Act didn't require union wages, just locally prevailing wages at the time.

    As if there were a difference.