Federal District Court Judge Mark Walker has issued a deadline for Gov. Rick Scott to establish a new process for restoring ex-felons’ voting rights: April 26.
Right now in Florida, ex-felons have mandatory waiting period of at least five years before they can vote again. And even then, they have to clear the hurdles of applying, being selected by the state clemency board – which Gov. Rick Scott sits on – and appearing before the board in Tallahassee.
Now, Judge Mark Walker has issued an injunction requiring the board to scrap that system, and has laid out parameters for creating a new one. Walker ruled in February the current scheme is unconstitutional.
“It is a completely arbitrary process, with no rules or criteria. No standards whatsoever,” said Jon Sherman, senior council for the Fair Elections Legal Network.
Sherman’s organization served as council for the plaintiffs in a lawsuit filed against Gov. Scott in 2017 relating to ex-felons’ rights. Sherman said he is “heartened” by Judge Walker’s move. He adds the parameters Walker set for Gov. Scott in creating a new system stand to yield results.
“He said that the changes they have to make to the voting restoration scheme have to be robust and meaningful, they have to be specific. He said they could no longer rely on discretion and subjective criteria, they would have to have specific neutral criteria is another phrase that he used,” Sherman said.
Judge Walker, in his order, wrote the clemency board, which includes the Attorney General, Commissioner of Agriculture and Chief Financial Officer, can’t have room to “rely on whims” in selecting whose rights are reinstated. But setting those type of guidelines aren’t the only thing Walker did in issuing the injunction:
“Not only did he do that but he also prevented the state from making good in its threat to withdraw the voting restoration scheme entirely, one of the things the states lawyers have suggested in the brief is that they could just have lifetime irrevocable voting ban for all felons,” Sherman said.
Gov. Scott, however, appears to be holding out hope that Judge Walker’s ruling goes beyond his jurisdiction. John Tupps, Scott’s communications director issued a statement saying:
“We will review the court’s ruling. Officials elected by Floridians, not judges, have the authority to determine Florida’s clemency process for convicted felons. This is outlined in Florida’s Constitution”
Fair Elections Legal Network’s Jon Sherman, though, says the clemency board’s new set of rules could create other constitutional issues. Until April 26, he and other advocates will have to watch and wait.