The Power of the Petition: Voter Restoration in Florida

From bail to ballot: the road to voter restoration in Florida.

After avidly petitioning for seemingly eons, Floridians have finally made headlines for something other than the notorious “Florida man.” That’s right, with 766,200 petitions, Florida is on the path to restoring voting rights to felons.

Florida’s felon voting rights are among the strictest in the nation; in fact, Florida is one of only four states in the United States which deny giving felons their rights back after they have served their sentence, parole, and probation. In contrast to the rest of the country, Florida felons are forced to wait an additional five years before they are allowed to appeal their right to vote. These former-convicts have to present their case before a panel, headed by Governor Rick Scott himself — the individual with the sole power in approving the restoration of said voting rights. This creates unnecessary boundaries for these people, making many drop the case in order to avoid the inconvenience.

However, this may be changing for the Sunshine State. U.S. District Judge Mark Walker recently ruled the entire system unconstitutional on the basis that it gave way too much power to partisan politicians. Walker went on to further admonish Rick Scott’s process by recalling an incident in which the governor approved voting rights of a white man who had cast an illegal ballot in his favor, while also declining restoration to five others (four of whom were black). This was not the first criticism the clemency board has received; for instance, it has previously been scrutinized for only met four times a year and hearing a mere 100 cases each time. This causes a backlog of over 10,000 cases, preventing many from having voting rights returned to them. Walker’s decision comes just shortly after a ballot measure was approved for the 2018 election, moving toward restoring the voting rights of about 1.2 million felons, excluding those convicted of murder and sexual offenses.

However, the controversy surrounding this decision lies deeper than this. Granding former felons the right to vote will drastically alter the outcome of elections — a major reason behind Florida’s reluctance to accept the bill. As one in four of these 1.2 million are African American men, there has been a major demographic missing from Florida elections. Florida’s status as a swing state and it’s crucial sum of electoral votes brands it as one of the most important states in each election, meaning that the national elections will be drastically impacted by this change in legislation.

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