Support local journalism. Join the Orlando Weekly Press Club.

Tuesday, March 14, 2017

Class-action lawsuit challenges Florida on felon voting rights

Posted By on Tue, Mar 14, 2017 at 9:30 AM

Lawyers for convicted felons filed a class-action lawsuit Monday against Florida officials, alleging that the state's process for restoring voting rights to people who have completed their sentences is arbitrary.

The lawsuit, filed in federal court on behalf of seven convicted felons by the Fair Elections Legal Network and the Cohen Milstein Sellers & Toll law firm, seeks to automatically restore former felons' voting rights.

Florida is one of just four states requiring felons who have fulfilled their sentences to petition to have their voting rights restored. The state's process prevents more than 1.6 million Floridians from voting, according to advocates of changing the process.

The lawsuit, which has not yet been certified as a class action, came as the Florida Supreme Court considers a proposed constitutional amendment that would let voters decide if felons who have completed their sentences and paid restitution to the state and victims should be able to vote without having to go through the cumbersome —- and oftentimes expensive —- clemency process.

The lawsuit alleges that the Board of Executive Clemency —- which imposed more-stringent requirements for restoration of voting rights shortly after Gov. Rick Scott and a newly elected, all-Republican Cabinet took office in 2011 —- has made "the process of voting rights restoration unconstitutionally arbitrary."

Under the system, felons must wait at least five years before seeking to have their civil rights, including the right to vote, restored.

According to the Fair Elections Legal Network, there is a backlog of more than 10,500 applicants seeking to have their voting rights restored, but the clemency board only hears an average of 52 cases per quarter, meaning it would take 51 years to handle the cases now in the pipeline.

Since Scott and the Cabinet changed the rules in 2011, fewer than 2,500 applications have been granted, compared to more than 155,000 in the previous four years.

Ex-felons "must beg state officials to give them their rights back and this set-up violates our Constitution," Jon Sherman, senior counsel for the Fair Elections Legal Network said in a statement announcing the lawsuit. "The right to vote should be automatically restored to ex-felons at a specific point in time —- the completion of a sentence —- not whenever a politician decides you've earned it."

A spokeswoman for Scott said his staff is reviewing the lawsuit, "but when it comes to the restoration of voting rights for felons, Governor Scott believes that they have to demonstrate that they can live a life free of crime, show a willingness to request to have their rights restored, and show restitution to the victims of their crimes."

The Florida Supreme Court heard arguments last week about the wording of the proposed constitutional amendment. If the Supreme Court signs off —- and if supporters can submit about 766,000 valid petition signatures —- the initiative would go on the November 2018 ballot.

Tags: , ,

We welcome readers to submit letters regarding articles and content in Orlando Weekly. Letters should be a minimum of 150 words, refer to content that has appeared on Orlando Weekly, and must include the writer's full name, address, and phone number for verification purposes. No attachments will be considered. Writers of letters selected for publication will be notified via email. Letters may be edited and shortened for space.

Email us at

Support Local Journalism.
Join the Orlando Weekly Press Club

Local journalism is information. Information is power. And we believe everyone deserves access to accurate independent coverage of their community and state. Our readers helped us continue this coverage in 2020, and we are so grateful for the support.

Help us keep this coverage going in 2021. Whether it's a one-time acknowledgement of this article or an ongoing membership pledge, your support goes to local-based reporting from our small but mighty team.

Join the Orlando Weekly Press Club for as little as $5 a month.


Never miss a beat

Sign Up Now

Subscribe now to get the latest news delivered right to your inbox.

Read the Digital Print Issue

December 1, 2021

View more issues


© 2021 Orlando Weekly

Website powered by Foundation