One of this site’s editors, Brigham Johnson, responded to some comments in news stories about Florida’s 2018 Voting Restoration Amendment. Here are a few of those exchanges:
Posted May 18, 2017 by Seán Kinane
There is already a process to restore voting rights. This is just another way to increase criminal voters. The law is in place for a reason. Think about the ramifications of letting criminals decide who is elected…wake up people these bleeding hearts are killing the country. If you want your voting rights, don’t commit crimes, if you want them back, follow the process to get them back.
“The law is in place for a reason.”
Yes, Florida changed its state Constitution in 1868 to restrict the voting power of Florida’s immense black population.
“Think about the ramifications of letting criminals decide who is elected.”
People in jail with misdemeanors are able to vote. That’s a problem? They are citizens with interests and opinions that are just as valid as yours.
As for felons, the amendment would not let them vote. The amendment would restore the voting rights of ex-felons, i.e. those who have completed “all terms of sentence including parole or probation” (and not been “convicted of murder or a felony sexual offense.”) This makes sense. Indeed, as the Declaration of Independence says, it’s self-evident truth: To secure our rights, Governments must derive their just powers from the consent of the governed. Ex-felons have fulfilled the terms of their sentences and, as free people, should have the right to vote. (Anyone convicted of another felony would again lose their right to vote.) Otherwise, 10% of Florida’s voting-age population will remain disenfranchised, unable to provide consent, and divided from, rather than united with, America.
The ramifications of passage? Our legal framework would further embody our Declaration’s self-evident truth that all men (and women) are created equal.
“If you want (voting rights) back, follow the process to get them back.”
You seem wedded to a process that was a cornerstone of Jim Crow. The vast majority of states don’t use this process. The Voting Restoration Amendment is not a Democrat vs Republican issue, it’s one of Jim Crow Florida vs the 21st Century. We have the power as citizens to repeal this undemocratic process. Use it!
Is everything “Jim Crow” that you detest? Get a grip man. This is not just in Florida. What’s the law in NY or California? The process is totally democratic. It is the law. Change the law then. I’m not about keeping anyone from voting that can contribute. Why do we have voting? So the people that are citizens that contribute to society can duly elect. why do people lose their voting rights? Because they have broken the very laws that society made for them to prove they can live in a civil society and contribute. Not contribute, no participation. This is not a trophy for everyone world…they do have a pathway to get the right to vote back. If they endear it as much as they should and desire to regain it, then follow the process.
“Is everything ‘Jim Crow’ that you detest?”
“Jim Crow” was social policy, and yes, I detest that it was formulated and that it persists. Its presence in Florida’s Constitution warps our electoral process, as intended. Mayor Mitch Landrieu gave context to this awful practice after removing the fourth Confederate statue in New Orleans. Substitute Florida’s disenfranchisement clause for his description of the statues and it’s just as powerful.
“This is not just in Florida.”
Florida has 6% of the U.S. population and more than 25% of its disenfranchised voters. (1.7M FL, 6.1M U.S.) Florida disenfranchises ex-felons for a longer period of time, on a far larger scale, than any other state. Many crimes here are classified as felonies while other states treat them as misdemeanors. In so doing, Florida balloons the number of disenfranchised voters.
“What’s the law in NY or California?”
NY, CA: Felons on parole (or in prison) may not vote. Click here for info on all states.
“The process is totally democratic. It is the law. Change the law then.”
Depends on what you mean by “totally” democratic. The disenfranchisement clause is not just a law, it is part of the state Constitution. Where elected offices require “50% + 1” to win, passing an amendment requires “60% + 1”, which is 1.5 “YES” votes for every 1 “NO” vote. Yes, there will be a vote, but the bar is much higher. (Note: There won’t be a vote without gathering 700,000 additional petitions by next February.)
“I’m not about keeping anyone from voting that can contribute.”
We all have our histories and interests, we all need a say about war and peace. We have families to consider, and public lands, environment and health care to manage. Everyone’s opinion matters, and so we don’t use land ownership or a poll tax to regulate voting. We can all contribute.
“Why do people lose their voting rights? Because they have broken the very laws that society made for them to prove they can live in a civil society and contribute.”
That’s why most states don’t let people serving their sentences vote. However, they restore voting rights upon completion. Florida’s lifetime ban on voting imposes a “civil death” that precludes having “consent of the governed.” 10% of our voting-age population now pays taxes without representation. That’s not a formula for civil society.
When do (felons) not get their rights back? After murder? After 2-3-4-5 convictions? There is a process to get your voting right back already…. When the repeat offender comes back and you say, oh it’s only 3 times they have been convicted, then you need to ask, why you want them to choose who is elected.
The Voting Restoration Amendment would not extend to those convicted of murder or a felony sexual offense. Yes, people recidivate, and they would again lose their right to vote, oftentimes with an enhanced (longer) sentence. But ex-felons are entitled to the presumption of innocence. Lifetime voting bans as a form of collective punishment use the veneer of law to broadly silence older/wiser opinions.
I have no problem with helping people navigate Florida’s process, and I don’t agree that there should be an automatic restoration of voting rights instead. To the contrary: If you aren’t willing to follow the law yourself, then you can’t demand a role in making the law for everyone else, which is what you do when you vote. The right to vote can be restored to felons, but it should be done carefully, on a case-by-case basis (like Florida has) after a person has shown that he or she has really turned over a new leaf, not automatically on the day someone walks out of prison. After all, the unfortunate truth is that most people who walk out of prison will be walking back in. Read more about this issue on our website here and our congressional testimony here.
Roger, I believe in the inherent worth and dignity of every person. As such, governments must obtain the consent of the governed as broadly as possible, including the consent of ex-felons. Florida’s Voting Restoration Amendment would still “consider criminal behavior so serious that the right to vote should be denied” (Clegg, 2/17/15) i.e. felons still serving their terms, including parole or probation, could not vote, and those convicted of murder or felony sexual offense would need restoration of civil rights before qualifying to vote.
You may not trust their judgment, but ex-felons have their own perspective and history that must also factor into the makeup and policies of our government. They have the presumption of innocence and the right to hold our elected officials accountable, by voting, just as you do.
Each of us has one life to live, and lifetime shunning by disenfranchisement is extreme. Florida’s case-by-case process for restoring voting rights is impractical. It was designed in 1868 to exclude significant segments of the population from voting. 1.68 million ex-felons now live in Florida. Rather than trickle out further judgment, Florida should join ranks with the majority of states in America and restore the right to vote upon completion of all terms of sentence.
Sunshine State News
Submitted by Allison Nielsen on February 20, 2017
Laura Butler comments:
A felony is a serious crime against society. Why should a person who has shown this contempt toward society be allowed to vote?
Brigham Johnson responded:
By definition, upon conviction, a felon faces and serves whatever penalty the state imposes for their crime. Then, after completing all terms of their sentence, including parole or probation, a felon resumes his/her place as a free citizen in society. We presume innocent until proven guilty, and this includes the right to participate in that most fundamental right of free people, the right to vote. Our Declaration spells it out: “We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness. — That to secure these rights, Governments are instituted among Men, deriving their just powers from the consent of the governed…”
A person may have “shown this contempt”, but life goes on and we turn the page. Presuming the best is a statement about ourselves and our commitment to just, legitimate government.