Florida Said to Stymie Ex-Felon Voting Rights

TALLAHASSEE (CN) – Ex-felons in Florida claim in a federal class action that the process by which they can regain their voting rights is arbitrary and violates the First and 14th Amendment.

In a complaint filed on Monday, the lead plaintiffs say Florida is one of only four states that require ex-felons to petition for the restoration of their voting rights.

To do so, they must go before a clemency board, comprised of defendants Fla. Gov. Rick Scott, state Attorney General Pam Bondi, and Florida’s chief financial officer and the commissioner of agriculture.

Board hearings take place only four times a year and hear an average of 52 restoration cases per session.

When Scott took office in 2011, he imposed lengthy waiting periods of five or seven years and “has also exercised his unbridled power over clemency procedures to reduce the number of civil rights restoration applications which are processed annually and reject tremendous numbers of ex-felon applicants,”  the complaint says.

The lawsuit states that there are an estimated 1.68 million disenfranchised ex-felons in Florida, and during Scott’s six years in office only 2,488 applications have been granted.

As of March 1, there were 10,513 restoration applications on the backlog.

“For the few ex-felons who endure the extensive delays to secure a hearing in front of the Board, what follows is a thoroughly inconsistent and arbitrary process for granting or denying applications for restoration of civil rights,” the complaint says.

The board is not bound by rules and regulations, and Scott can use his own discretion to decide the fate of applicants.

The lawsuit alleges Scott uses traffic violations and alcohol use as reasons to deny the restoration of voting rights. It also claims Scott makes decisions based on political leanings and that “the Governor nevertheless frequently denies applicants by noting simply and cryptically that ‘more time needs to pass.’”

The Florida Supreme Court is considering a proposed constitutional amendment for the 2018 ballot that would let voters decide if ex-felons can forego the clemency process.

The class members are requesting that the court enjoin the defendants from requiring the plaintiffs to petition for the restoration of their voting rights and from denying their applications.

They are represented by the Fair Elections Legal Network and Cohen Milstein Sellers & Toll law firm.

Whitney Ray, a spokesperson for the attorney general’s office, said “We are reviewing the complaint.”