It might sound like a headline from before the Voting Rights Act of 1965, but in 2015, over 1.5 million people have been stripped of their right to vote in Florida due to felony convictions.
In a 2014 interview with Meet the Press, Kentucky Senator and GOP presidential hopeful Rand Paul called felony disenfranchisement the “biggest voting rights issue of our day,” adding that there could be “a million people who are being prevented from voting from having a previous felony conviction.”
In fact, Paul’s estimate was far too low.
A study by the Sentencing Project, a prison reform group, estimated that 5.85 million Americans, a quarter of them Floridians, were unable to vote in the 2014 midterm elections due to disenfranchisement.
Florida is one of 11 states that denies ex-convicts the right to vote even if they have been released from prison and are no longer on parole or probation. Some states restore felons’ voting rights when they have completed probation, while others only deny the vote to those actually incarcerated. In Maine and Vermont, prisoners can vote by absentee ballot.
According to the Sentencing Project study, only 25 percent of those disenfranchised are actually incarcerated, while 45 percent are no longer at any stage in the correctional process.
“[Disenfranchisement] is a very counterproductive message to send out… Recidivism is high. It should be the interest of the community to have a person reintegrated and connected with a positive institution,” said Marc Mauer, director of the Sentencing Project.
Florida allows ex-felons to apply to regain their voting rights if they remain arrest-free for five to seven years after the end of their probation, but does not automatically restore voting rights under any circumstances. In 2007, former Gov. Charlie Crist made provisions for automatic re-enfranchisement in certain cases, but Gov. Rick Scott reversed Crist’s policy after taking office in 2011.
The issue has become especially politically charged in Florida, which in addition to boasting the nation’s highest rate of disenfranchisement, is home to two GOP presidential candidates, Sen. Marco Rubio and former Gov. Jeb Bush.
By Grayson Quay | Watchdog Arena
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