Gov. Rick Scott and the all-Republican state Clemency Board on Wednesday appealed a federal judge's order that Florida's felon voting rights restoration process be overhauled by April 26.
- Felon voting rights restoration vote to make Florida November ballot (Jan. 23, 2018)
- Federal judge strikes down Florida’s felon voting rights restoration process (Feb. 1, 2018)
- Florida ordered to create new process for voting rights restoration (March 27, 2018)
The process includes a five-year waiting period before felons who have already served their sentences can petition the board to reinstate their voting rights. In a sweeping ruling last month, U.S. District Court Judge Mark Walker declared the scheme "fatally flawed" because, he wrote, it arbitrarily determines which of Florida's 1.5 million disenfranchised felons are allowed to vote.
But in their motion to the Atlanta-based Eleventh Circuit Court of Appeal, Scott and the Clemency Board assert Florida has a right to set the parameters of felon rights restoration, including mandating a waiting period.
Such discretion is critical to "preserving the autonomy of the states in our federal system," the appeal argues.
The reaction to the appeal, which was crafted without a public meeting of the Clemency Board to discuss a path forward in the wake of Judge Walker's ruling, was swift - and biting.
"Has Rick Scott no shame?" Democratic gubernatorial candidate Gwen Graham asked in a statement. "Fighting to restrict voting rights on any day is disgraceful. Disenfranchising voters on the anniversary of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.'s assassination is a slap in the face to Dr. King's legacy and all he fought for."
Florida's felon rights restoration process was first crafted during the post-Reconstruction Jim Crow period, preventing millions of African-Americans from casting ballots. The state shifted to an automatic restoration system in 2007 under former Gov. Charlie Crist, but that move was reversed shortly after Scott took office in 2011.
Scott has said felons should be required to prove they're capable of living a crime-free life before being allowed to regain the right to vote.
But the governor's critics are accusing him of playing politics at the start of an election season when Scott is widely expected to launch a campaign to unseat Democratic U.S. Sen. Bill Nelson.
"This governor really appears to be harking back to the Jim Crow day of politics, and it really is sad," said Damien Filer of Progress Florida. "One would think that the governor of the state would see the fundamental value of having as many people have a right to vote and participate in our process as possible."
Regardless of the outcome of the legal battle, Florida voters will have an opportunity in November to put an automatic felon voting rights restoration process in the state Constitution. Polls show Amendment 4, which would grant voting rights to non-violent felons who have completed their sentences, enjoys broad public support.