Gov. Rick Scott and the Florida Cabinet formally asked a federal appeals court Monday to delay a judge's order to revamp the state's system of restoring voting rights to convicted felons.
The four statewide officials say a delay pending an appeal is necessary to avoid "chaos and uncertainty" in two upcoming elections in Florida.
The request for a stay was filed by Attorney General Pam Bondi in the 11th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in Atlanta 10 days before the effective date of U.S. District Judge Mark Walker's order. The order directs the state to scrap an unconstitutional vote restoration process and replace it by April 26.
In a motion filed with the Atlanta court, Scott and the three Cabinet members, who collectively make up the board of executive clemency, continue to defend the existing 150-year-old vote-restoration system.
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"The record does not establish that the board makes clemency decisions arbitrarily or based on improper considerations," they argued. "Record evidence demonstrates that the board considers relevant factors and follows a careful process in resolving clemency applications."
"The 30-day deadline was unprompted and arbitrary," state officials argued. "The state has an interest in avoiding chaos and uncertainty in its election procedures, and should not be forced to employ a rushed decision making process on an artificial deadline now."
The state raised the possibility that if a stay is denied and the injunction is later vacated, the state's voter eligibility rules may change twice in a short period of time.
Scott continues to criticize Judge Walker for "reckless" decision-making.
In a statement, Scott spokesman John Tupps said: "Judge Walker recklessly ordered elected officials to change decades of practice in a matter of weeks. … The governor will always stand with victims of crimes, not criminals."
Florida is the largest state that permanently strips convicted felons of the right to vote unless the right is restored by the governor and at least two Cabinet members.
An estimated 1.5 million convicted felons have been permanently disenfranchised by a policy that since 2011 requires felons to wait for at least five years after completing their sentences before they can ask for the restoration of the right to vote.
Walker's first ruling on Feb. 1 in the historic case of Hand v. Scott declared that the vote-restoration system was arbitrary and violated constitutional rights of felons. He issued a permanent injunction on March 27, ordering a new clemency system be enacted by April 26.
Florida voters will decide in November whether to change the state Constitution to automatically restore voting rights to felons, excluding those convicted of murder or felony sex crimes. The proposal will appear as Amendment 4 on the general election ballot.