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Felons Voting, as Florida Voters Will Decide in November, Could Flip Major Races

rick scott at the florida capital

The politics of Florida’s debate over whether ex-felons should be allowed to vote without making a special appeal to the governor’s office is simple: Democrats love the idea. Republicans hate it. Voters will decide in November.

Florida, Iowa and Kentucky are the only states that don’t allow ex-felons to vote after they have served their sentences, including probation and parole. The Brennan Center for Justice said that the Sunshine State’s law prevents more than 1 million people from voting.

Two sociology professors said if those Floridians, along with “disenfranchised” ex-cons in other states had been allowed to vote, the biographies of Richard Nixon and Al Gore would be radically different in the nation’s history books.

State Attorney General Pam Bondi and Gov. Rick Scott, two term-limited Republicans, have blocked a federal lawsuit that would force Florida to change the way it restores voting rights to people who get out of prison after doing time for a felony conviction.

Florida requires ex-felons to wait as long as seven years before they can apply to have voting rights restored. Even after an application is filed, it can take years more before a decision is made by the governor.

According to the Florida Commission on Offender Review, more than 10,000 of those applications were waiting for a decision in April.

Thanks to an appeal filed by Bondi, the 11th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals blocked a federal judge’s order last month that would have required an immediate change in Florida’s voting rights application system.

Republican primary candidates for attorney general — Frank White and former Judge Ashley Moody — may not agree on much. But both told the Orlando Sentinel that, if elected, they would continue working against any attempt to change the way ex-felons are allowed to register to vote.

“The Fourteenth Amendment gives the governor broad discretion to grant and deny clemency,” White said.

Moody said a lawsuit filed by the Fair Elections Legal Network against Florida’s system for restoring an ex-felon’s right to vote was “another example of activists inappropriately attempting to use our judicial system to overturn decisions by our elected officials.”

The third GOP primary candidate for Florida attorney general, Jay Fant, did not respond to a request for comment.

Democratic primary AG candidates — state Rep. Sean Shaw and attorney Ryan Torrens — told the Sentinel they support granting of immediate voting rights to ex-felons.

“I believe that our citizens who have paid their debt to society should be able to participate in our democracy again by exercising the right to vote,” Torrens said.

Not only does Shaw consider Florida’s fight to block an order to reform the voter restoration process a waste of time and money, he believes Bondi and Scott are only defending a discriminatory system.