Fight to gain felons the right to vote in Florida continues

The Supreme Court declined to review the Johnson v. Bush case of whether it is constitutional to deny felons the right to vote after serving their time Nov. 14.

The class action suit was sent to the Supreme Court Oct. 26. This law denies any convicted felon, even those who have served their time, the right to vote.

In article six, section four of the Florida Constitution, it states that “No person convicted of a felony, or adjudicated in this or any other state to be mentally incompetent, shall be qualified to vote or hold office until restoration of civil rights or removal of disability.”

Catherine Weiss, an associate counsel from New York University for the Johnson v. Bush case, said 613,000 people in Florida who have completed felony services still don’t have the right to vote.

She said the motivation for the suit was simply from people in Florida who desired to have their basic right to vote returned after paying their debt to society.

“The case was filed before the 2000 presidential election, but the 2000 election made everyone in the nation aware,” Weiss said.

The significance of the law against ex-felons is actually in the time period it was implemented.

Weiss said that the Florida law is dated after the Civil War and in 1968 it was re-enacted.

“The purpose of it (the original law) was to keep newly freed slaves from voting,” Weiss said.

“Florida is one of the three states that takes away the right to vote even after they have completed their time,” said Courtenay Strickland, a project coordinator of American Civil Liberties Union in Florida, who is also involved with the case.

The other states that permanently disenfranchise released felons are Kentucky and Virginia. Weiss said that there are 10 more states that deny voting rights depending on the criminal act committed by the person.

According to a report by Christopher Uggen, a sociologist at University of Minnesota, of those disenfranchised, at least 30 percent are black.

“One in three (black men) have lost their ability to vote,” Strickland said.

After committing a felony, these citizens can also have a hard time in the job market.

“In Florida, you not only lose the right to vote, but you lose the right to hold a lot of state licenses which takes away from people’s right to take care of their families,” Strickland said. “When we deny the most basic right, it’s a huge flaw to our citizens.”

Pushpa Jain, a political science professor at Florida A&M University, said she believes that the restoration of voting rights to ex-felons depends on the crime committed.

She said she believes this issue is worthy of attention because of its effect on minorities and FAMU should help push this issue into the limelight.

“Everything that is related (to minorities) whether it is election, whether it is voting, whether it is incarceration, should be paid attention,” Jain said.

Contact Asia Horne-Smith at