Judge calls Florida's ban on felons voting Unconstitutional

A federal judge on Thursday ruled as unconstitutional, Florida’s policy of banning felons from voting until they petition the government, stating that it forces them to bend to the whim of state politicians. The ruling was on a lawsuit filed by nine ex-felons who were denied the right to vote

Nearly all 50 US states deny incarcerated criminals the right to
vote. Florida is among the only four to have not automatically restored voting rights after felons have completed their sentences.

U.S. District Judge Mark Walker in a 43-page decision wrote: “In Florida elected, partisan officials have extraordinary authority to grant or withhold the right to vote from hundreds of thousands of people without any constraints, guidelines or standards.” The Judge said he would rule later on how the state should fix the system.

Communication director to Florida's Governor, John Tupps, in a statement said the state of Florida had in place a process for restoring voting rights to felons, for decades and that Walker’s ruling broke with U.S. Supreme Court precedent.

“The governor believes that convicted felons should show that they can lead a life free of crime and be accountable to their victims and our communities,” Tupps said, adding that the office would defend it in court.

“Today a federal court said what so many Floridians have known for so long — that the state’s arbitrary restoration process, which forces former felons to beg for their right to vote, violates the oldest and most basic principles of our democracy,” Jon Sherman, senior counsel for the organization, told local media.

In his ruling, Walker said felons were subjected to a lengthy and arbitrary process to get their voting rights back. “To vote again, disenfranchised citizens must kowtow before a panel of high-level government officials over which Florida’s governor has absolute veto authority,” the Judge wrote.

Walker cited a clemency hearing at which the Republican governor announced: “We can do whatever we want,” and another where a felon, who told the governor he had illegally voted for him, had his rights immediately  restored.

Florida elections officials, last month, approved the inclusion of a measure that would restore voting rights to people who had completed their sentences on the November ballot, unless they had been convicted of murder or a serious sex offence.

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