In November 2018, Florida voters decided to restore voting rights for convicted felons by passing Amendment Four to the state’s constitution. This restoration of rights applied to felons who completed their parole or probation periods and were not convicted of murder or felony sex offenses.
The amendment was later challenged by the 11th Circuit Court of Appeals. In July 2020, the U.S. Supreme Court upheld the appellate court’s decision to temporarily block Florida felons from voting. This means there is a chance they may not be able to cast a ballot in the upcoming November presidential election.
The Sentencing Project—a research and advocacy center working for a fair and effective U.S. criminal justice system—estimates that nearly 1.5 million people in Florida have completed their sentences but still can’t vote, according to a Vox article.
We talked to two recognized Best Lawyers to get their input on voting rights for felons.
Mark P. Rankin
The Law Office of Mark P. Rankin
Recognized for Criminal Defense: General Practice Since 2013
Do you think those convicted of a felony should have the right to vote?
Felons should retain the right to vote. Citizens who are punished for breaking the law are citizens nonetheless and should retain the right to express their opinions at the ballot box.
What do you think of Amendment Four?
Amendment Four was a step in the right direction. Barring felons from voting has a long history of aiming for the suppression of African-American voters. The legislature’s effort to ignore the will of the voters by passing legislation meant to suppress voting is abhorrent.
When should those convicted of a felony be allowed to vote?
Felons should retain their right to vote at all times. Just because someone is serving time in prison does not mean they should give up their right to vote. They are still citizens of the United States and residents of Florida.
How might the issue of felon voting rights impact the upcoming presidential election in November?
It is difficult to know how felon voting rights will affect the November election. Tens of thousands of felons have registered to vote since Amendment Four passed. It will be interesting to see how many follow through to vote and for whom.
What has Florida's legislature done in terms of voting rights for felons?
The Florida legislature's movement to suppress voting by felons was contrary to the letter and spirit of Amendment Four. The legislature ignored the will of the people and imposed a poll tax upon felon voters. Hopefully, the full 11th Circuit Court of Appeals will step in to rectify a terrible wrong.
Denis M. deVlaming
deVlaming & Rivellini
Recognized for Criminal Defense: General Practice Since 2006
What is your opinion on felon voting rights?
Felons should be able to vote after successfully finishing the sentence. They have paid their debt to society and, therefore, have earned their right to vote once again.
Should there be limits imposed?
It is my belief that anyone who is finished serving their term of imprisonment or probation should then be allowed to vote. Other conditions should not be required.
What do you think of the 11th Circuit Court of Appeals' attempt to block felons voting in July of this year?
It is my opinion that the 11th Circuit Court of Appeals decided the voting rights issue incorrectly. It was not the intent of the voters who passed Amendment Four to include untenable conditions in order for a felon to restore his or her right to vote.