Vot­ers should end Florida’s par­ti­san, racist pol­icy of deny­ing vot­ing rights to felons

Miami Herald (Sunday) - - In Depth - BY FABIOLA SAN­TI­AGO fsan­ti­ago@mi­ami­her­ald.com

For the last eight years, Gov. Rick Scott has sat in judg­ment of Florida’s 1.5 mil­lion felons — long af­ter they’ve com­pleted their sen­tences, in­clud­ing pa­role and pro­ba­tion — and kept them from vot­ing.

“If you are a con­victed felon, part of what you did is you lost your rights,” Scott has said to ex­plain the long, drawn out process by which his “clemency board,” made up of his Cab­i­net, con­sider restor­ing a felons’ vot­ing rights.

“This is a board of mercy,” he tells the peo­ple be­fore him. “We make de­ci­sions based on our own be­liefs.”

That’s a lot of power for a bunch of hyper-par­ti­san peo­ple. No won­der they have presided over what the Bren­nan Cen­ter for Jus­tice calls “one of the most puni­tive dis­en­fran­chise­ment poli­cies in the coun­try.”

A re­cent Palm Beach Post in­ves­ti­ga­tion un­cov­ered just how un­fair, par­ti­san and ar­bi­trary the cur­rent sys­tem of restor­ing rights can be: Scott’s brand of jus­tice has kept Democrats and African-Amer­i­can felons from get­ting their rights re­stored at much higher rates than Repub­li­cans and whites. Blacks ac­counted for 27 per­cent of those who had their vot­ing rights re­stored but 43 per­cent of those re­leased from prisons.

In fact, Scott has granted vot­ing rights to the low­est per­cent­age of blacks in 50 years, the

Post found.

It’s stun­ning to watch a video that shows the in­dig­ni­ties en­dured by peo­ple who have served their time and have filed an ap­pli­ca­tion to be al­lowed to vote again and waited for years for this hear­ing. They’re asked de­mean­ing ques­tions that have no rel­e­vance what­so­ever, like by how many part­ners they have con­ceived their chil­dren.

But Florida vot­ers can change this mis­car­riage of jus­tice on Nov. 6 with a Yes vote on Amend­ment 4 to au­to­mat­i­cally re­store the rights of peo­ple who have fully paid their debt to so­ci­ety, in­clud­ing the su­per­vi­sory pe­riod fol­low­ing a sen­tence served.

Note: Peo­ple con­victed of mur­ders and sex crimes are ex­cluded from this, as they should be.

When you hear re­habbed felons who have made some­thing good of their lives post-prison talk about why they want their rights re­stored, they will tell you things like: “to be made whole,” and “to be a full ci­ti­zen again.” They de­serve this in­te­gral sec­ond chance in­stead of dis­bar­ment for par­ti­san or racist rea­sons.

An es­ti­mated 6.1 mil­lion Amer­i­cans na­tion­wide aren’t al­lowed to vote. Al­though rates of dis­en­fran­chise­ment vary from state to state due to dif­fer­ing pro­hi­bi­tions, only three states in the na­tion — Florida, Iowa and Ken­tucky — out­right dis­en­fran­chise vot­ers con­victed of a felony af­ter they’ve done their time. That’s 1.5 mil­lion peo­ple in Florida — 10 per­cent of the adult pop­u­la­tion in the state and dis­pro­por­tion­ally poor or work­ing poor and black.

It’s a dis­grace.

For one, the man who sits in judg­ment of whether they should be al­lowed to vote or not might have been a con­victed felon him­self were it not for good lawyers.

As CEO of Columbia/ HCA in the 1990s, a com­pany he founded, Scott presided over what was then the largest health­care fraud case in the na­tion’s his­tory, re­sult­ing in a $1.7 bil­lion fine to the com­pany.

Scott’s only pun­ish­ment was to step down from the job — and leave a mil­lion- aire.

His money helped Scott twice get elected gover­nor. His not-so-blind trust — in­vested in com­pa­nies that did busi­ness with Florida — has only grown his riches and is fund­ing now his cam­paign for the Se­nate against in­cum­bent Bill Nel­son.

Scott in­voked count­less times the Fifth Amend­ment against self-in­crim­i­na­tion and said he didn’t know any­thing about the fraud. He clev­erly avoided prison time for fla­grant white-col­lar crime — and has rou­tinely ruled to deny oth­ers the right to re­join the voter rolls as the el­i­gi­ble Amer­i­can cit­i­zens that they are.

As they say, only in Florida.

“Florida’s democ­racy is bro­ken, and no one — least of all Latino vot­ers — should be okay with a sys­tem that rel­e­gates so many to sec­ond-class sta­tus, deny­ing them one of the hall­marks of U.S. cit­i­zen­ship,” said Sean Mo­ralesDoyle, coun­sel in the Bren­nan Cen­ter, a non­par­ti­san law and pol­icy in­sti­tute at New York Uni­ver­sity School of Law.

It would take a yes vote by 60 per­cent of the vot­ers in th­ese midterm elec­tions to change the sta­tus quo — not an easy task, de­spite the tes­ti­mony of many felons from all walks of life who are serv­ing their com­mu­ni­ties, some in lead­er­ship roles.

If you be­lieve that jus­tice trumps pol­i­tics, you should vote for Florida to join the rest of the na­tion in restor­ing the vot­ing rights of felons who’ve com­pleted their sen­tences. Af­ter suc­cess­fully com­plet­ing pa­role or pro­ba­tion, they shouldn’t have to sit at an­other trial by politi­cians to re­build their lives.

“Pun­ish­ment must in­clude a con­struc­tive and re­demp­tive pur­pose,” the Florida Con­fer­ence of Bish­ops said in a state­ment en­dors­ing Amend­ment 4. “As nearly all in­mates will re­turn to so­ci­ety, their in­te­gra­tion must be en­cour­aged.” In­deed.

If you think that a crime com­mit­ted and atoned for shouldn’t de­ter­mine who you are for the rest of your life, you need to give Amend­ment 4 a yes vote.

Fol­low Fabiola San­ti­ago on Twit­ter, @fabi­o­las­an­ti­ago

Newspapers in English

Newspapers from USA

© PressReader. All rights reserved.