Florida Rights Restoration Coalition Seeks to Restore Voting Rights to Non-Violent Felons

Florida is one of several states taking a harsh stance on civil rights once a person has been convicted of a crime. You might assume that when someone is convicted, he or she serves the applicable sentence (if there is one), pays any fines, gets approved for parole/probation, and life goes back to normal, right? Wrong. The loss of civil rights is part of the collateral consequences of a crime. This could mean things like denial of professional licenses, housing restrictions for convicted sex offenders, and losing the right to vote.

Loss of Voting Rights

It is estimated that 1.6 million people in Florida can not vote because they have been convicted of a felony. Many of these are people who committed non-violent felonies like driving with a suspended license or trespassing.

Offenders can technically apply for reinstatement of their voting rights five or seven years after parole/probation, but the waiting time to get your case reviewed can extend years as there are thousands of applicants ahead in the queue. The Clemency Board only meets four times a year, so you can imagine the backlog is pretty massive.

Florida Rights Restoration Coalition (FRRC)

Enter the Florida Rights Restoration Coalition, founded by Desmond Meade, a former drug addict who was convicted of drug and firearm charges in 2001. He eventually earned a law degree and founded the FRRC to help convicted felons like himself regain their civil liberties. He wants non-violent felons to have the right to vote, serve on a jury, or even take the bar exam. He thinks voting rights should automatically be restored rather than wait years to even apply.

Bid to Amend the Florida Constitution

Meade’s mission to get voting rights restored has gained some traction recently after he obtained 70,000 verified signatures to get the Florida Constitution amended. Florida’s Supreme Court reviewed it and agreed it was worthy of a statewide ballot.

If approved, the amendment would read,

“Voting rights shall be restored upon completion of all terms of sentence, including parole or probation. No person convicted of murder or a felony sexual offense shall be qualified to vote until restoration of civil rights.”

Signing the Petition

Right now, Meade and his group need about 700,000 more signatures prior to February 1, 2018, in order to get the amendment on the ballot. Once it is on the ballot, more than 60% of people need to vote it into law. Residents interested in signing the petition can download it at the Florida Division of Elections website or from the FRRC website itself.

Why is This Amendment Important?

You may wonder what kind of difference, or impact, the amendment would have. According to the New York Times, there were only 537 votes that separated Al Gore and George W. Bush in the 2000 election. However, it is estimated that nearly 600,000 people in Florida had completed their prison sentences, but were unable to cast a vote.

If you have been charged with a crime, it is important to have a competent criminal defense attorney on your side. A conviction in Florida can affect your life long after you have served time and paid your dues. Please contact West Palm Beach criminal defense attorney William Wallshein today for a confidential consultation.