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Felon voter restoration advocates make their case to Supreme Court

The group behind a proposed state constitutional amendment to automatically restore voting rights to nonviolent felons told the Florida Supreme Court this week that the initiative meets all criteria to appear on the ballot.

In a brief filed Tuesday, Floridians for a Fair Democracy argued that the proposed amendment “presents voters with a unified and limited question of whether to automatically restore voting rights to persons convicted of a felony.”

Additionally, “the ballot title and summary of the proposed amendment clearly and unambiguously explain that such automatic restoration is the chief purpose of the amendment,” the brief argues.

“Reading them together, the voter will be adequately informed and able to cast an intelligent vote about whether to include the proposal in the Florida Constitution.”

The text of the amendment and its ballot summary comply with Supreme Court precedent requiring a “logical and natural oneness of purpose,” the brief argues.

Signing the document were Jon Mills of Boies, Schiller & Flexner, a former Florida House speaker and dean emeritus at the University of Florida Fredric G. Levin College of Law; and Orlando attorney Andrew M. Starling.

Supporters hope to place the initiative on the ballot in 2018.

The Supreme Court reviews all proposed constitutional amendments and can block any that violate the single-subject rule. That means either that they amount to “logrolling,” forcing voters to accept something they don’t like to get something they do; or substantially affect more than one branch of state government.

“The proposed amendment would make one simple policy change that touches upon only a single branch of Florida’s government,” the brief says. “Given the vast executive functions of the governor and Cabinet, this solitary impact is not substantial in the sense contemplated by the single-subject rule.”

Under existing law, the governor and Cabinet review petitions to restore voting rights filed by all felony offenders. Were the amendment adopted, that system would apply only to felons convicted or murder or sexual offenders.

The ballot summary reads:

“This amendment restores the voting rights of Floridians with felony convictions after they complete all terms of their sentence including parole or probation. The amendment would not apply to those convicted of murder or sexual offenses, who would continue to be permanently barred from voting unless the governor and Cabinet vote to restore their voting rights on a case by case basis.”

“The drafters explicitly excluded individuals convicted of murder or a felony sexual offense, who will continue to seek restoration under the current system,” the brief says.

Written By

Michael Moline is a former assistant managing editor of The National Law Journal and managing editor of the San Francisco Daily Journal. Previously, he reported on politics and the courts in Tallahassee for United Press International. He is a graduate of Florida State University, where he served as editor of the Florida Flambeau. His family’s roots in Jackson County date back many generations.

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