Former State Senator Arthenia Joyner on Friday hailed last week’s unanimous ruling by the Florida Supreme Court approving the ballot initiative language allowing automatic restoration of voting rights for ex-felons.
“I am very pleased with the Court’s decision,” said Senator Joyner. “The abrupt decision by Republican Governor Rick Scott soon after taking office to yank Florida back to the 20th century by reversing automatic restoration of these rights was by design. Many of these individuals are African-American. And many of them lean Democratic. His move, sanctioned by his Republican Cabinet, was yet another attempt to suppress the Democratic vote in Florida. This ballot initiative approval is the first step in giving the citizens the opportunity to right that wrong.”
The ballot language cleared by the Justices allows backers of the proposal to begin the signature collection process. The proposal – which would apply to all ex-felons with the exception of those convicted of murder or felony sexual offenses – already has almost 72,000 voters’ signatures, but needs roughly 760,000 more to get on the November 2018 ballot. If more than 60% of voters approve it, the initiative becomes law and voting rights will be restored.
Heeding a growing number of calls to allow Florida to join the more than 20 states allowing automatic restoration of rights, then Governor Charlie Crist in 2007 was the first chief executive to grant them. Sadly, Governor Scott reversed that order soon after taking office, setting an arbitrary waiting period of 5-years before ex-felons, who had completed all terms of their release, could even apply to have their rights restored. Since then, legislative efforts led by Senator Joyner to reverse his action have been unsuccessful, leaving an estimated 1.5 million Floridians in the lurch without voting rights.
“Many of the people still denied their rights were casualties of the “War on Drugs” and other non-violent offenses, hardly justifying their perpetual banishment from participating in our democracy,” said Senator Joyner. “If the governor won’t listen to the people clamoring for a return of their rights, it’s up to the people to make it happen. It’s up to us to do what’s right for those who have atoned for their sins.”