Skip to main content

Sign up for our newsletter.

Quality journalism. Progressive values. Direct to your inbox.

There are only a few days left in our critical Mid-Year Campaign and we truly might not make it without your help.
Please join us. If you rely on independent media, support Common Dreams today. This is crunch time. We need you now.

Join the small group of generous readers who donate, keeping Common Dreams free for millions of people each year. Without your help, we won’t survive.

A ruling by a federal judge on Florida Governor Rick Scott's policy barring former felons from voting, could have wide-ranging implications for upcoming elections. (Photo: hjl/Flickr/cc)

Implications for 2020 and Beyond as Judge Strikes Down Florida's "Nonsensical" Felony Voter Law

"Partisan officials have extraordinary authority to grant or withhold the right to vote from hundreds of thousands of people without any constraints, guidelines, or standards. The question now is whether such a system passes constitutional muster. It does not."

Julia Conley

Calling Florida's disenfranchisement of felons who have completed their sentences "nonsensical" and unconstitutional, a federal judge on Thursday struck down the system that Republican Governor Rick Scott put in place in 2011.

Florida has been one of four states that have not automatically restored former felon's voting rights after they have served their time. The Brennan Center for Justice has called the state's system "one of the most punitive disenfranchisement policies in the country," barring 1.5 million people in the state from registering to vote—including 20 percent of the state's African-Americans of voting age.

Under Scott, convicted criminals who have served their time must wait five years after their release before they can apply through the Office of Executive Clemency to have their voting rights restored. The governor's Cabinet members are elected to serve on the panel, and Scott has had absolute veto authority over its decisions regarding former felon's civil rights.

"Partisan officials have extraordinary authority to grant or withhold the right to vote from hundreds of thousands of people without any constraints, guidelines, or standards," U.S. District Judge Mark Walker said. "Its members alone must be satisfied that these citizens deserve restoration... The question now is whether such a system passes constitutional muster. It does not."

The system violates both the First and Fourteenth Amendments, said Walker in his ruling on a lawsuit brought by the Fair Elections Legal Network on behalf of nine formerly incarcerated Florida residents.

The judge's ruling will not automatically restore voting rights to the state's former felons, but voting rights advocates say the strong rebuke of Scott's policy is the latest step toward enfranchisement. A recent campaign mounted by Floridians for Fair Democracy garnered enough support to have an amendment included on the state's November 2018 ballot that would restore voting rights to the formerly incarcerated, except those convicted of murder and sexual offenses.

The ruling and ballot initiative could have far-reaching implications for upcoming elections; President Donald Trump won Florida by just over 100,000 votes in November 2016.


Our work is licensed under Creative Commons (CC BY-NC-ND 3.0). Feel free to republish and share widely.

Just a few days left in our crucial Mid-Year Campaign and we might not make it without your help.
Who funds our independent journalism? Readers like you who believe in our mission: To inform. To inspire. To ignite change for the common good. No corporate advertisers. No billionaire founder. Our non-partisan, nonprofit media model has only one source of revenue: The people who read and value this work and our mission. That's it.
And the model is simple: If everyone just gives whatever amount they can afford and think is reasonable—$3, $9, $29, or more—we can continue. If not enough do, we go dark.

All the small gifts add up to something otherwise impossible. Please join us today. Donate to Common Dreams. This is crunch time. We need you now.

Jan. 6 Panel Subpoenas Trump White House Counsel Pat Cipollone

Noting his refusal to cooperate beyond an informal April interview, the committee's chair said that "we are left with no choice."

Jessica Corbett ·


Sanders Pushes Back Against AIPAC Super PAC With Endorsements of Tlaib and Levin

"Once again, these extremists are pouring millions of dollars into a congressional race to try to ensure the Democratic Party advances the agenda of powerful corporations and the billionaire class."

Brett Wilkins ·


Missouri Hospital System Resumes Providing Plan B After 'Shameful' Ban

The health network had stopped offering emergency contraception over fears of violating the state's abortion law—a "dangerous" move that critics warned could become a national trend.

Jessica Corbett ·


'An Act of Conquest': Native Americans Condemn SCOTUS Tribal Sovereignty Ruling

"Every few paragraphs of the majority opinion has another line that dismissively and casually cuts apart tribal independence that Native ancestors gave their lives for," observed one Indigenous law professor.

Brett Wilkins ·


'Lunacy': Democrats Risk Running Out of Time to Confirm Federal Judges

"Democrats aren't filling open seats right now in federal district courts because, for unfathomable reasons, they are letting red state senators block nominees," said one critic.

Julia Conley ·

Common Dreams Logo