Judge Rules Florida's Ban on Felons Voting Unconstitutional

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A federal judge on Thursday ruled as unconstitutional, Florida's policy of banning felons from voting until they petition the government, stating that it forces them to bend to the whim of state politicians. In a scathing ruling, U.S. District Judge Mark Walker forced the state to rework its disenfranchisement process no matter how people vote in November, ruling that the current system violates the Fourth and 14th Amendments of the Constitution.

Scott's administration decried the ruling for breaking with tradition.

"When the risk of state-sanctioned viewpoint discrimination skulks near the franchise, it is the province and duty of this Court to excise such potential bias from infecting the clemency process", Walker wrote.

Walker, who was appointed by President Barack Obama, said he will decide soon what Florida should do to fix the process.

"To vote again, disenfranchised citizens must kowtow before a panel of high-level government officials over which Florida's governor has absolute veto authority", he wrote.

Florida elections officials, last month, approved the inclusion of a measure that would restore voting rights to people who had completed their sentences on the November ballot, unless they had been convicted of murder or a serious sex offence.

Florida now disenfranchises a higher portion of its population than any other state, with 10% of all adults and 21% of African-Americans barred from voting due to a felony conviction. To be blunt, that was the objective of the law: W.J. Purman, one of the state legislators who pushed hardest for the disenfranchisement laws, said the rules "kept Florida from becoming 'niggerized". "More than one in five of Florida's African American voting-age population can not vote".

He looked at a number of cases and found, in similar circumstances, some felons had their rights restored while other didn't. Former prisoners must wait five years to apply after serving their sentences, finishing probation, and paying any fines. Currently, with mandatory waiting periods before applying, a Board that meets only 4 times a year, and a backlog in the system, the average waiting time to get one's case just on the agenda of the Board of Executive Clemency is 16 1/2 years.

But now, he's at the forefront of a fight to restore voting rights for about 1.5 million Floridians who've completed their sentences, but remain without the right to vote. When Scott took office in 2011, he reversed Crist's decision.

Walker said the process should change, but did not say how.

Scott's spokesman, John Tupps, released a statement Thursday night saying the clemency board has been in place for decades, has been overseen by multiple governors and the process is outlined in Florida's Constitution. "We can do whatever we want", the Governor said at one clemency hearing.

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