The effort to restore voting rights to convicted felons has once again failed. After going before the Senate the last two years, the proposed bills still remain buried in committee.During last year’s legislative session, the Senate and House were rumored to be negotiating a proposal to restore voting rights to convicted felons and limit individual campaign contributions from $500 to $1,000.By the end of the session both proposals were dead and the committees heard neither bill.This year, similar bills died in the Senate. SB 1826, co-sponsored by Senators Mandy Dawson, D- Fort Lauderdale and Les Miller, D-Tampa, and SB 1880 sponsored by Sen. Dawson were again unheard during this year’s legislative session. SB 1826 is a joint resolution constitutional amendment. It would give authorization to the legislature to provide conditions that would award convicted felons the right to register to vote by statute.SB 1880 served as a complementary bill. A general bill entitled The Citizens Empowerment Act, it provided for automatic restoration of former felons’ right to register and vote upon completing and satisfying their sentence, which includes incarceration and community supervision.”In my district and Senator Dawson’s there are felons who have paid their debt to society. They have become productive citizens and have started their own families. If you have served your time and paid your debt to society, you should have the right to vote”, Miller said.The restoration of voting rights to convicted felons first made a major splash during the 2000 elections. The issue first gained attention from both candidates and the media during that time. At the time only three states (Maine, Vermont, and Massachusetts) did not allow voting rights to those who served or were serving felony convictions. The remaining states however, did not prohibit such rights.The denial of felons’ right to vote is supported under the 14th amendment, which states that the state can enforce any law, which abridges the privileges and immunities of citizens. However, the amendment does allow the denying of voting rights to those guilty of participation in any type of rebellion or crime.
Currently 16 states are allowing voting rights to felons upon the completion of their sentence. These states include Kansas, South Dakota, Utah, and Hawaii. Some of these states have decided to restore rights automatically. The remaining states including Florida still prohibit felons from voting during the time of parole or probation. Florida is one of the 13 states, which allows felons to become disenfranchised for life.
“We want to make sure they immediately have the right to vote restored. It is not difficult to get your rights back. The difficult thing is the long process it takes to apply and getting the dollars to help do it, The NAACP now has a project to serve prisoners dealing with these issues,” said Anita Davis, president of the local NAACP chapter.
A major controversy surrounding the restoration of felons’ voting rights involves the disenfranchisement of African American men. According to the Human Rights Watch approximately 1.4 million African American men are disfranchised that is over 13 percent of the black men not able to vote in this country.
“It is political, most of the felons are black and probably would become democrats if given the opportunity. This would tilt the legislation and possibly the choice for governor,” Miller said.
Rona Silberman, legislative assistant to Sen. Dawson, said both offices would continue to push the bills in next year’s session.