Efforts to restore voting rights to felons gets boost from federal judge
BOCA RATON, Fla. (CBS 12) —
Felons in Florida have just won a major victory when it comes to returning to society.
A federal judge has made a decision about their rights to vote, he says it's unconstitutional to withhold that right from them.
And now it's up to Governor Rick Scott to restore voting rights to felons or try to fight this by bringing it to a higher court.
This issue is part of what's called disenfranchisement.
Felons in Florida can't vote unless they go through a process to re-apply as a voter.
That process can take years, and a federal judge says its biased.
This ruling from federal Judge Michael Hand is a watershed moment for felons who want to vote.
Judge Hand was assigned to oversee and rule on a federal lawsuit between a group of felons suing Governor Rick Scott and the state of Florida.
Judge Hand sides with the felons. He says disenfranchisement is wrong. So the ball is now in Scott's court to change Florida's state constitution and give felons an easier path to the right to vote.
"The whole process for restoring voting rights to felons in Florida is deeply flawed," said Paul Wright.
Wright was convicted for murder, he served 17 years, now he's a family man and an editor of a newspaper that is distributed in correctional facilities, Prison Legal News.
Wright has been at the forefront of this issue. He says if Gov. Scott follows the federal judge's orders 1.7 million felons will be eligible to vote-- maybe as early as February's midterm elections.
"It goes back to the American revolution with the issue of 'no taxation without representation' that if I'm being taxed I should have a say in what my government representatives are doing with my tax money," Wright said.
The governor's office is already indicating there could be more of a legal fight-- this might go all the way to the United States Supreme Court.
"The Supreme Court has been clear on this for a long time, even if you have rules and policies in place, there's limits to your discretion, the process can't be arbitrary, you can't just inject your own personal prejudice and biases into the process," Wright said.
There's a deadline in place-- February 12th.
That's how long the state has to figure out how to restore felons voting rights in a quicker, more fair process, or appeal.