Florida must stop keeping ex-prisoners from voting rights – article

Mark Schneider wrote this op ed piece for the

The Palm Beach Post, Sunday August 7, 2016:


Florida must stop keeping ex-prisoners from voting rights



How much of our money does Gov. Rick Scott spend each year to keep some of our fellow citizens from voting? The answer is $2.5 million. Who are these citizens? They’re the 1.5 million Florida residents with past felony convictions, kept from the polling booths by Scott’s manipulation of a constitutional provision, a vestige of Civil War-era racism designed to disenfranchise black people in Florida. In almost all other states but ours, these citizens would automatically have their civil rights restored upon completion of the terms of their sentences, and at almost no cost to the taxpayer.


The $2.5 million is what the “rights restoration” operation of one of our least transparent bureaucracies — the Florida Commission on Offender Review (FCOR) — spends per year. In 2014, however, only 562 citizens had their rights restored, and 2014 was an average year under Scott. Meanwhile, more than 10,000 applications are pending, with no sign of that number being reduced. These applications and their expensive processing would be unnecessary were Florida to automatically restore rights to those who have fully paid their debt to society and are seeking a second chance.


But if you’re Scott or Attorney General Pam Bondi, what would appear to most of us to be bureaucratic waste is a good, if self-serving, use of taxpayers’ money. It seems not to impress Scott or Bondi that, according to Florida’s Department of Corrections, individuals who have their rights restored are much less likely to re-offend.


Strangling rights restoration has left multitudes waiting for permission to travel at their own expense to Tallahassee and beg the Clemency Board — Scott, Bondi, Secretary of Agriculture Adam Putnam, and Chief Financial Officer Jeff Atwater — for the vote. But the idea of saving them that expense and you the bureaucratic waste — that $2.5 million — is not on the table in Tallahassee. It’s better to make us all pay, even if we’re the poorer and the “pending cases” now have to wait an average of more than 15 years.


As a number of recent court decisions, and particularly one in North Carolina, have indicated, the judicial system is beginning to recognize voter suppression for what it is. Florida has its own brand of suppression — felon disfranchisement — and it’s less easy to attack through the courts. But let’s hope that Florida taxpayers wake up to how much of their money goes to keeping fellow citizens from voting and register their dissatisfaction at the polls. And they should sign petitions for the current ballot initiative to change Florida’s Constitution to automatically restore rights in most cases. That’s one ballot initiative that would save us money.



Editor’s note: Schneider is president of the

Palm Beach County Chapter of the ACLU of


For an informative look at how courts influence this issue and to hear a wonderful speaker, SAVE THE DATE:  

Wednesday September 21, 11 am: How Judicial Vacancies Impede Access to Justice: Nancy Abudu, Legal Director for the ACLU of Florida. The high number of judicial vacancies on the Federal bench has led to significant delays, and sometimes outright denials, in the appellate context.  Atlantis Country Club, 190 Atlantis Boulevard, Lake Worth.  $20 if register by September 11; $30 after September 11. Register online  at lwvpbc.org