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Florida Voters Share Power with Felons

Rare Moment:
People with Power Voted to Share Their Power with Those Who Could Not Vote.

Starting January 8, 2019, a Felony Will Not Prevent Someone from Registering to Vote

Felons: If You Have Completed Your Sentence, Register to Vote!

On November 6, 2018, 64% of American citizens registered to vote in Florida who cast their ballot in the 2018 mid-term election voted to give the power of the vote to other American citizens who want to register to vote in Florida and are prevented from voting solely because they have a felony on their record.

On January 8, 2019, the Florida Constitution will be amended to provide that the voting rights of felons, other than those convicted of murder or a felony sexual offense, "shall be restored upon completion of all terms of sentence including parole or probation."

So, if:


Supervisor of Elections
January 8. 2019, 8:30 AM

Please note that this applies solely to the right to vote. It does not necessarily restore other civil rights, though - in due course - the state legislature could sense the direction of the electorate and pass a bill to make the restoration of all civil rights automatic, upon completion of sentence.

How the Amendment became part of the Florida Constitution

There are a couple of paths an idea may take to become an amendment to the Florida Constitution. This one took the path that led to The People.

Someone named Desmond Meade got an idea - lives of people convicted of a felony should not proceed at the whim of a group of four people.

The United States is great because it was founded on the idea of equality rather than the privilege of certain people called monarchs. Each of us is "created equal ... with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness." Thomas Jefferson used the word "among" to indicate that there could be more rights.

John Adams, Sam Adams and others in Massachusetts had been pleading with the British and organizing the colonialists. They objected to taxation without representation and the intolerable acts of the English Parliament and Crown. They wanted their voices heard and demanded the right to equal treatment.

Representatives of the Colonies met in Philadelphia in 1774. Shots were fired at Lexington and Concord in 1775. The colonies met again in Philadelphia in 1776.

Thomas Jefferson did the "heavy lifting" of drafting a Declaration of Independence although he was on a committee with John Adams, Benjamin Franklin, Roger Sherman, and Robert Livingston. Jefferson's words encapsulated the idea that we are created equal. They remained unchanged in the final version. If the British would not recognize their equality, they would be equals without the British.

As representatives of the United States of America, they mutually pledged to each other "our Lives, our Fortunes and our sacred Honor." They did not replace the British Crown with their own head-of-state. It was better to be independent and rely on each other.

In 1777, the Continental Congress agreed upon Articles of Confederation, which the states ratified in 1781 (History).

"Article II. Each state retains its sovereignty, freedom and independence, and every Power, Jurisdiction and right, which is not by this confederation expressly delegated to the United States, in Congress assembled.

"Article III. The said states hereby severally enter into a firm league of friendship with each other, for their common defence, the security of their Liberties, and their mutual and general welfare, binding themselves to assist each other, against all force offered to, or attacks made upon them, or any of them, on account of religion, sovereignty, trade, or any other pretence whatever."

The U. S. Government still did not have a president and the powers of the Congress were limited out of fear that a too-powerful government would take too many priveleges, like a monarchy. The states were following the idea that they were equals, and those with the most resources were competing against those with less resources. They agreed to better perfect the idea of equality by finding a workable balance between a central government with too little power to rein-in the larger states and a government that was unduly intrusive in the affairs of the states and the people. On February 21, 1787, the Continental Congress resolved that the states meet in Philadelphia:
"for the sole and express purpose of revising the Articles of Confederation..."

Seventy (70) people were appointed by the states. Fifty-five (55) delegates actually attended the Constitutional Convention, meaning they were exposed to the sweltering summer; the arguments for a strong centralized government offered by James Madison in support of the Virginia Plan and the counterarguments for protection of smaller states and individuals which resolved itself fairly quickly into a framework for a Congress with a Senate where each state would have equal voting power (to protect the interests of the smaller states) and a House of Representatives where the voting power would be based on population (partially counting slaves), a single-person executive, and a judiciary; and, the ennui of a Convention deadlocked over the issue of slavery. Thirty-nine (39) delegates found their way through the emotional and intellectual haze to sufficiently agree with the end result and sign the new Constitution on September 17 (now known as "Constitution Day and Citizenship Day"). (Chips Magazine, 2018)

Congress was annoyed that the delegates did not revise the existing document (called the Articles of Confederation) but wrote a new Constitution. Despite speeches about punishing the delegates, the new Constitution proceeded through the ratification process. Ratification by nine states was required for the proposed constitution to become law. According to Ben's Guide at the Government Printing Office (GPO), these are the dates the states ratified the new constitution:

  1. Delaware: December 7, 1787
  2. Pennsylvania: December 12, 1787
  3. New Jersey: December 18, 1787
  4. Georgia: January 2, 1788
  5. Connecticut: January 9, 1788
  6. Massachusetts: February 6, 1788
  7. Maryland: April 28, 1788
  8. South Carolina: May 23, 1788
  9. New Hampshire: June 21, 1788 (With this state's ratification, the Constitution became legal.)
  10. Virginia: June 25, 1788
  11. New York: July 26, 1788
  12. North Carolina: November 21, 1789
  13. Rhode Island: May 29, 1790 (Rhode Island did not hold a Constitutional Convention.)
Congress waited for two of the most populous and powerful states to come on board. Virginia and New York used their negotiating position to get a promise from James Madison that a Bill of Rights would be introduced when the first Congress convened. The Federal Government began operating under the new constitution on March 4, 1789. James Madison was good to his word and we now have a Bill of Rights.

Throughout our history, the founding principal of equality was unchanged though, eventually, it was stated more legalistically in the 14th Amendment to the Constitution which guarantees due process and equal protection:

"All persons born or naturalized in the United States, and subject to the jurisdiction thereof, are citizens of the United States and of the State wherein they reside. No State shall make or enforce any law which shall abridge the privileges or immunities of citizens of the United States; nor shall any State deprive any person of life, liberty, or property, without due process of law; nor deny to any person within its jurisdiction the equal protection of the laws."

We are equals before the law. Each of us is as free as any of the rest of us. Only through a process that is applied equally may the government deprive us of Life, Liberty, Property, or the Pursuit of Happiness.

That process is grounded in an independent judiciary. When someone is accused of a felony, they are entitled to a trial by their peers, which means a jury on which there may be people other than lawyers. To find a defendant guilty, a jury must decide, unanimously, that each member is convinced beyond a reasonable doubt that the accused is guilty. Only then will a judge impose a sentence that deprives the accused of life, liberty, or property.

A convict's sentence is not open-ended. It defines for the accused and the public the maximum punishment that will be imposed on the convicted felon. Once the terms of the sentence have been completed, the convict will have done all the court required. They will have paid their debt to society. They are free to pursue their lives, just like anyone else.

For example, Mr. Meade completed law school and wanted to take the Florida bar exam. Much earlier in his life, he had been convicted of a felony. In 2018, he told Amy Goodman on Democracy Now! that "the last time I voted was when I was serving in the military, and that's been quite a number of years." A lot of time had passed, yet his civil rights had not been restored. He could not vote and he was not allowed to pursue his dream of becoming a lawyer, further, in Florida, because the Executive Clemency Board composed of the Governor, the Attorney General, the Commissioner of Agriculture & Consumer Services, and the Chief Financial Officer had not chosen to restore his civil rights.

Mr. Meade felt this was a willful, arbitrary and capricious misuse of their power rather than the result of a procedure applied equally to every convicted felon in his situation. He managed a Citizen Initiative to amend the Florida Constitution. A petition drive was organized that resulted in enough valid signatures to put the matter before the Florida Supreme Court (which must approve the text of proposed Constitutional Amendments). The Supreme Court approved and, then, more signatures were gathered to put the amendment on the 2018 state-wide ballot.

Enough people in Florida who could vote, did vote. The amendment passed. On Tuesday, January 8, 2019, the Florida Constitution will be amended in accordance with the vote of the electorate to rein in the Board's power over clemency.

The people on the Clemency Board at that time are proudly displayed in this picture of the Florida Commission on Offender Review, accessed December 31, 2018:

The Executive Clemency Board cancelled its December 5 meeting that followed the November 6 election, "Due to the passing of President George H. W. Bush and the funeral services being held on Wednesday, December 5...."

While the Executive Clemency Board was updating its website to reflect their decision to not meet following the election, they left a highlighted remark that stated "In Florida, a convicted felon cannot vote, serve on a jury, or hold public office until civil rights have been restored." That will not be true starting January 8, 2019, when a felony, by itself, will not necessarily prevent someone from being able to register to vote.

The outgoing Clemency Board also highlighted in a separate box with green background that:

With the passage of Amendment 4 in the November 2018 General Election, the Clemency Board will temporarily postpone consideration of pending applications for restoration of civil rights while the new framework required to implement the constitutional changes is defined, which may include the need for implementing legislation in the upcoming legislative session. The Clemency Board will continue to process and hear pending applications for other forms of clemency, including commutations, pardons, restoration of firearm authority, remission of fines or forfeitures, and restoration of alien status.

Apparently, to punish the voters for amending the Florida Constitution to remove decisions about the right to vote from the powers of the Clemency Board (pictured above), the Board chose to stop processing all applications for restoration of civil rights, including the right to hold a professional license.

The Board could not reach the actual voters to punish them, so they punished the people they could reach. These are people with so little power they were pleading with government officials for mercy, charity, grace and forgiveness (aka: clemency).

Hubert Humphrey observed that:

"(T)he moral test of government is how that government treats those who are in the dawn of life, the children; those who are in the twilight of life, the elderly; and those who are in the shadows of life, the sick, the needy and the handicapped." Hubert H. Humphrey

That would include those who are disenfranchised, deprived of other civil rights, and in need of help advocating and voting for themselves when the state would not grant them a little grace.

Sometimes justice, or karma, works in mysterious ways:

Only Chief Financial Officer Jimmy Patronis was returned to office, in Florida. As an aside, since many people seem unfamiliar with what the Chief Financial Officer does, the CFO "heads the Florida Department of Financial Services and is responsible for overseeing the state's finances, collecting revenue, paying state bills, auditing state agencies, regulating cemeteries and funerals, and handling fires and arsons. In addition, the CFO has administrative oversight over the offices which handles banking and insurance regulation." Wikipedia

To summarize, the voters extended suffrage to convicted felons who have completed their sentence. The voters took the power over whether someone could vote away from the Executive Clemency Board and gave it back to the person who had it before the state deprived them of it.

Sharing the power to vote with people who had been deprived of that power by the state was voluntary. No one forced it upon the people. It was a decision of the people who could vote. That vote was momentous and something that happens only once-in-a-while in a democracy with a republican form of government.

Each time suffrage was expanded, people with the power to vote gave the power to vote to those who were disenfranchised. A recent article by Grace Panetta and Olivia Reaney in Business Insider has a timeline that shows:

Though, this may seem like a small step, since there is so much more to be done, Florida took a large leap into a future where the restoration of other civil rights is automatic upon completion of sentence and not left to the whim of a few people.

Statement by Howard Simon, retiring ACLU of Florida Executive Director:

Today is a new day in Florida, a new day in America, and a new day for 1.4 million Floridians.

Over 60% of Florida voters took a stand for fairness and voting rights, and to remove an ugly stain that has been in our state's constitution since the Civil War era.

This victory is the culmination of decades of hard work. For too long, Florida has been an extreme outlier - our state's lifetime voting ban was the single most powerful voter suppression tactic in the country, shutting more people out of the voting booth and out of our democracy than any other single law or policy in the country.

Today, when democratic values are on the defensive worldwide, Florida voters made a resoundingly clear statement that the state's shameful lifetime ban on voting is not consistent with the values of democracy.

We are incredibly grateful to the supporters and volunteers who have fought for voter restoration over the years and helped make this historic moment possible. ACLU of Florida volunteers called over 270,000 voters, sent over 780,000 texts and knocked on over 13,000 doors. It has been an honor to work alongside them.

The constitutional amendment the voters have now approved is not the end of this saga; it is more like the end of the beginning. In the days and weeks ahead we will seek to work with newly elected Governor to ensure that Amendment 4 is implemented as intended by the Floridians who placed in on the ballot and voted to approve it - without delay and without imposing more burdens on the process to register to vote.

But right now, we celebrate one of the largest expansions of the franchise in our nation's history with the 1.4 million Floridians who will finally have a second chance and a voice in our democracy.

[The American Civil Liberties Union was a major backer of the Yes on 4 campaign, contributing more than $5 million to support the campaign to put Amendment 4 on the ballot and then secure the amendment's passage.]

ACLU Florida Statement Celebrating Passage of Amendment 4 / Cache

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