A staple in American democracy is the right to vote. Having a voice in the election of leaders and passing of laws is a powerful tool any American citizen should be able to exercise. However, the Sentencing Project, a non-profit organization aiming to promote reforms in sentencing and mass incarceration, reports that over 1.5 million Floridians are ineligible to participate in this process.
This is the number of Floridians currently living with a felony conviction on their record.
According to the Brennan Center for Justice, Florida is one of three states — alongside Iowa and Kentucky — to have one of the highest disenfranchisement rates in the U.S. by prohibiting any citizen with a felony conviction from voting. Florida can and should do better for almost 10 percent of its adult population it has rendered voiceless.
Fortunately, Florida will have that chance come this November.
Amendment 4 — the Voting Restoration Amendment — will appear on the ballot for Florida’s 2018 midterm elections. Voting “yes” on this amendment will support the restoration of voting rights for people with prior felony convictions, with the exception of those convicted of murder or a sexual offense, once their sentence has been served.
Many argue that a person who broke the law should not contribute to making laws for their fellow citizens.
Once a felon has served their time and re-enters the public, they should be able to participate in the legislative conditions that still very much affect them.
A felony conviction can already make it more difficult for a person to procure housing, employment or education, and yet they are still required to maintain such provisions to be an active member of society. It is an injustice to require a person to function in a society that does not allow them to exercise their rights.
Length of sentences are determined judicially in a court of law. By barring ex-felons the right to vote, the state is practically extending their punishment to a life sentence. While an imprisoned person technically belongs to the state, they should be able to live as a free person once they are released.
This freedom includes voting rights.
Currently, the law — which dates back to the Reconstruction era — disqualifies felons from voting unless an official request is approved by Florida legislative administrators. There are not any concrete standards or criteria the Florida Clemency Board follows. This board includes a group of government officials who assist in granting convicted felons relief from punishment and restoration of civil rights.
It appears to be a lengthy and arbitrary process. According to National Public Radio, many applicants are waiting years for a hearing, only for a decision to be made based on the subjective discretion of a governing body.
On the Nov. 6 ballot, Florida’s eligible voters should help the 1.5 million voiceless members of our community have a say in future elections. A criminal record does not exempt a person from having to operate as a law-abiding citizen upon the end of their sentence, so it should not exempt them from having a role in the democratic institutions they live under.
Paige Wisniewski is a senior majoring in interdisciplinary social science.