Joe Henderson: Polls show strong voter support for Amendment 4 - Florida Politics

Joe Henderson: Polls show strong voter support for Amendment 4

Florida remains divided on many political issues, but there seems to be strong bipartisan agreement about the issue of restoring voting rights for convicted felons, formally known as Amendment 4.

As Florida Politics reported, a recent poll showed 74 percent support for the constitutional amendment on the ballot in November that would strike down voting prohibitions for felons who have completed their sentences and parole or probation requirements. Those convicted of murder or sexual offenses would continue to be banned.

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It needs 60 percent to pass.

That bipartisan support I mentioned — 79 percent of independents and 88 percent of Democrats are in support, and even a majority of Republicans (59 percent) said they’re in favor.

Boiled down, this means the people of Florida had to go this route of a grassroots push for a constitutional amendment because Republican-controlled Tallahassee wouldn’t budge — fairness be damned.

Florida is one of only three states — Iowa and Kentucky are the other two — to automatically and permanently bar felons from voting even after their sentences are complete. They can apply to the state for a restoration of rights, but not until five years after their release. Most of the time, the answer is no — and there is a backlog in the thousands of cases waiting to be heard.

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Amendment 4, if passed, would restore rights to an estimated 1.5 million people in Florida.

Did we mention that maybe it’s the right thing to do?

When Charlie Crist was Governor, he restored the rights of thousands of nonviolent felons. That changed when Rick Scott took over. That’s when the legislative equivalent of Bob’s Barricades was placed in front of felons to keep them from taking that next step into society and the voting booth.

In a withering decision in February, U.S. District Judge Mark Walker overturned Scott’s policy, saying “disenfranchised citizens must kowtow before a panel of high-level government officials over which Florida’s Governor has absolute veto authority. No standards guide the panel. Its members alone must be satisfied that these citizens deserve restoration.

“Until that moment (if it ever comes), these citizens cannot legally vote for presidents, governors, senators, representatives, mayors, or school-board members. These citizens are subject to the consequences of bills, actions, programs, and policies that their elected leaders enact and enforce.”

Naturally, Scott and Attorney General Pam Bondi fought the decision out of respect for “the victims.” Funny, Bondi wasn’t so concerned about “the victims” of Trump University’s money scam while she was receiving a $25,000 campaign check, but are we surprised?

I’m not.

When a person is convicted of a felony in Florida, they already will face a lifetime of obstacles that will remind them daily that society has judged them to be failures. Getting a decent job with a felony on your record can be a problem. That means supporting yourself or a family will be an ongoing struggle.

Yes, they shouldn’t have committed the crime.

But let’s say a felon is sentenced to five years for robbery and serves that time. Society considers the debt paid, but Florida is like a loan shark who just keeps piling up that debt until it becomes unsustainable on the individual.

Politicians then like to say they’re “tough on crime” but what they really are is hardhearted and shortsighted. A person who feels more invested in society — and voting can be a big part of that — is less likely to fall back into trouble.

I wouldn’t expect the lawmakers we have now to embrace that idea, though. It’s easier to demonize and tag people who made a serious mistake with a scarlet “F” for the remainder of their days. That’s why sometimes voters have to take the law into their own hands with things like Amendment 4.

This is one of those times.

I have a 45-year career in newspapers, including nearly 42 years at The Tampa Tribune. Florida is wacky, wonderful, unpredictable and a national force. It's a treat to have a front-row seat for it all.

8 Comments

  1. If you’re not willing to follow the law yourself then you should have a role in making the law for everyone else which is what you’re doing directly or indirectly when you vote. The right to vote should be restored only after the felon shows that he has turned over a new leaf, not automatically when he leaves prison. After all the unfortunate fact is that most felons will be returning to prison.

    1. So…an 18 year old that shoplifts something that costs over $300 (which is a felony in Florida) should forever, for the rest of their lives, lose their right to vote? Or a young 19 year old housewife writes a cold check for over $300…she should never in her lifetime be allowed to vote again? Why shouldn’t they have their right to vote restored after they’ve paid their debt to society…most of those crimes were never even bad enough to be given any jail time so once they have successfully served their probation and paid their fines why shouldn’t they have their voting rights restored? Almost every other state allows the restoration of rights…only Florida…Kentucky…and Iowa does not. And it is time to change that here in Florida. Vote yes on Amendment 4.

    2. Actually the rate of recidivism in Florida for felons is around 25% I’ve a theee year period. Felons whose voting rights have been reinstated have lower rates.

      Your small minded vindictive opinion that most felons will reoffend isn’t supported by the facts. It says a lot about the kind of person you are though.

  2. Thank you for your article. Not only does Florida remove your rights; but they charge $650,000 for a drug charge? Who, after servicing 15 years, can ever pay that back. This is not murder; but it might as well be. The Excessive Fines Clause of the Eight Amendment states …excessive bail shall not be required, nor excessive fines imposed, nor cruel and unusual punishments . Not only that but they charge a 40% surcharge on top of that for the collection agency. Thereafter, if payment is not made, demanding the revoking of your driver’s license? What good does that do anyone? There is absolutely no chance of recovery for a mistake made in your early years. The poor, the black, and the mentally unstable pays the heaviest price. The justice system has proved to be “No Justice”.

    1. Exactly @Belle Orlando. Whatever happened to forgiveness? And once you paid your debt to society you should be able to return to your community and earn a living for your family and integrate yourself back into the community….not serve your time and then continue to pay for it for several more years or even forever…enough. Once someone serves their semtence, whether it be jail time, probation or just fines they should be done. They’ve paid their debt to society.

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