Florida has history of disenfranchisement

Palm Beach Post, July 4, 2016
by Mark Schneider (President of ACLU Palm Beach County, LWVPBC and Voting Rights Coalition member)

With the campaigns in full swing, it’s time to remind voters of Florida’s shameful recent history of voter disenfranchisement, including the state’s legacy of stripping the right to vote from felons.
In Florida, felons can apply to have their rights restored five to seven years after completing their sentences. But under Gov. Rick Scott, fewer than 2,000 who applied for rights restoration have been approved. Many of these Floridians, who have paid their debt to society, have applied and been denied or forced to wait in limbo for years without resolution.
Black Floridians are much more likely to be disenfranchised, with nearly one-quarter of Florida’s black population disenfranchised. In some African-American communities, there are more disenfranchised voters than eligible ones.
A federal appeals court upheld Florida’s ban on felons voting in 2005. The court rejected the argument that felon disenfranchisement laws enacted after the Civil War were racially motivated and chose not to apply the Voting Rights Act to the laws.
Voting rights cases have a dramatic effect on elections, and issues around voting and civil rights illustrate the importance of having nine justices on the Supreme Court. If a shorthanded court is deadlocked 4-4 in these crucial cases, we could see a patchwork of legal standards, and our democracy is undermined as a result.