Republican candidate for Governor Ron DeSantis says he doesn’t support the “Second Chances” constitutional amendment. The proposal would automatically restore voting rights to Floridians convicted of nonviolent felonies who have served the time for their crime.
DeSantis told the Tampa Bay Times, ” … I don’t support automatic restoration of voting rights. I’m going to be very tough on crime, and I’m never going to budge on that.” DeSantis opponent, Democrat Andrew Gillum supports the initiative.
DeSantis opposition to Amendment 4 breaks with Freedom Partners, a conservative organization that has endorsed his campaign. The group is financed by conservative billionaire Charles Koch. In announcing its support for Amendment 4, a statement from Freedom Partners said, “We support the Florida Second Chances campaign, which would return the eligibility to vote to Floridians who have done their time and paid their debts in full. This will make our society safer, our system more just, and provide for real second chances for returning citizens.”
Supporters of Amendment 4 stretch across the ideological divide from the conservative Koch Organization to the liberal ACLU.
“I think a lot of the proponents of 4 just think it’s the right thing to do from a humanitarian standpoint,” said Reginald Garcia, a Tallahassee attorney who specializes in clemency law and worked to get the initiative on the November ballot. “Also there’s the libertarians and the conservatives who say government just doesn’t do this criminal justice function well at all.”
Garcia has spent his career representing Floridians who have committed crimes in the past and are rebuilding their lives. He guides them through the process of applying for pardons or restoration of rights.
It’s estimated than 1.4 million Floridians are denied the right to vote because they were convicted of a felony crime. Amendment 4 would automatically restore the voting rights, but not all rights, to people convicted of nonviolent felonies who have served prison time, probation and made restitution for their crime. Those who served time for murder or sex crimes would be excluded from the automatic process.
Florida is one of four states that doesn’t automatically restore voting rights. Instead the restoration process is handled by the Governor and Cabinet (Attorney General, Chief Financial Officer and Agriculture Commissioner) sitting as the State Clemency Board. It meets four times a year, which is one of the reasons there is a backlog of more than 10,000 Floridians seeking restoration of their civil rights. Some cases have taken a decade to reach the Clemency Board.
Earlier this year a federal judge declared the state system unconstitutional. A federal appeals court has placed a stay on the judge’s decision.
Florida’s process in restoring voting rights recently gained national attention on the HBO comedy show Last Night Tonight. Host John Oliver skewered the process calling attention to the unappealable discretion the Governor and Cabinet have in approving or denying each case.
The HBO segment can be viewed here. WARNING — some language may be considered offensive and children should not view it.
A Florida Atlantic University poll released this week shows that supporters still have work to do to win passage. The poll found that 49 percent of those surveyed support Amendment 4, while 25 percent oppose, with the rest undecided. It takes 60 percent of voter approval to be placed in Florida’s Constitution.