On voting day November 6, 2018, with “Amendment 4,” Florida voters abolished the state’s archaic, racist, unconstitutional voter rights restoration process. This was a victory for justice, democracy, racism, and felony disenfranchisement. Now convicted ex-felons will have a portion of their stripped civil rights restored, and become productive citizens, who can vote. A federal judge ruled on February 1, 2018, that Florida’s system of voter rights restoration is unconstitutional. U.S. District Judge Mark Walker found “the lack of timeliness in administering clemency unconstitutional. He noted the clemency board may defer restoration of rights for years or forever.”
It was obvious in Florida this process has been in place for decades, and it has always been managed and controlled by the governor and the Florida commissioner board. For most ex-felons there was a mandatory waiting period of 5 to 7 years to start the process, and it usually took 10 to 13 years to complete the process. Only 10% of the ex-felons were successful in restoring their voting rights, and the majority stopped trying after 12 years. In order for an ex-felon to be considered for a hearing with the Executive Clemency Board, here are some of the conditions that must be met; 1) pay in full any restitution owed, 2) no pending criminal charges, 3) wait the mandatory period after those conditions are met, 4) submit the
necessary paperwork and clemency application, and 5) name of church, doctor, and education affiliated with on a regular basis.
Without the work of Desmond Meade, President of the Florida Rights Restoration Coalition and other organizations and years of work, amendment 4 would have never been on the ballot. Mr. Meade organized the drive to put the amendment on the ballot, and over 5 million (64%) Floridians voted in favor of the amendment. This is a great achievement for Florida, but it is also a model for the country, because there are still over 5.8 million ex-felons around the country, which are disenfranchised and not able to vote, after they have completed their sentence. Many believe that the treatment of ex-felons in the south is a moral issue, which goes back to Jim Crow Laws after reconstruction.
The passage of Amendment 4 was a political, ethical, and moral victory, for Blacks, and people of color in Florida. As many different organizations and different individuals take their victory lap, everyone must remember that the battle is not over.
Republicans still control the Florida Senate, the House, the governorship, and all commissioner seats, except for the commissioner of Agriculture. The newly elected governor Ron DeSantis has already stated that he is no friend of Amendment 4. On January 8 th the constitutional amendment goes into effect, but the implementation details must be worked out in terms of the state bureaucracy. “The Florida state government has failed to implement citizen-driven ballot amendments in recent years,” says Daniel Rivero ofWLRN. Even though the amendment has been passed the implementation phase may take a year or more. Many Republicans in the legislature will probably erect barriers to make it difficult for ex-
felons to vote, because many of these new voters will probably be Democrats.
Change in America is always incremental and slow, and this voter amendment for ex-felons will probably be put on the back-burner, if the different coalitions do not continue to fight and demand change. This is a historic victory for voting rights in Florida, and the country. Now, phase two - The Implementation.