It’s election season, as if anyone needed reminding, and candidates on the national, state and local levels want to lure voters to the polls. It’s the American way. Except . . . Florida continues its bad habit of engineering who can vote based, not on citizenship, but assumptions about whom voters will support based on age and ethnicity, skin color and past behavior.
The Republican-led Legislature’s curtailing of early-voting days leading up to Election Day is just the most recent attempt to suppress the votes this year of young people, Hispanics and African Americans. But the state also has an enduring tradition of denying ex-felons their right to vote, making them jump through so many hoops over a period of years that many give up trying. Florida is one of the few states that does not automatically restore this right once someone has paid his or her debt to society. It’s unfair, and un-American.
The local chapters of the Alpha Kappa Alpha Sorority and the Alpha Phi Alpha Fraternity will sponsor an event at which people who once were in prison can start the ball rolling toward having their rights restored. The services will be provided by the Miami-Dade Public Defenders Office, the Florida Rights Restoration Coalition and other agencies.
There was a brief, slightly more-enlightened period under former Gov. Charlie Crist, when he and the clemency board allowed offenders convicted of nonviolent crimes to have their rights automatically restored upon release from prison. The restoration process had been so onerous and time-consuming that the backlog of petitions to the state grew to 98,000. Unfortunately, Gov. Rick Scott rolled back even this small provision. Back to onerous.
So those convicted of nonviolent felonies — but not those convicted of other nonviolent crimes such as bribery and any crime committed by an elected official — must wait five years before applying for restoration of rights. Others must wait seven years before applying.
Yet a study of 31,000 ex-felons whose rights were restored showed they were far less likely to reoffend than other ex-felons. But lawmakers and the governor blithely ignore this in pursuit of political dominance. This, too, is unfair — and un-American.