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Smith, Joyner Withdraw Proposal And Back Felon Voting Rights Ballot Initiative

Andrew Quintana

The journey for Florida felons to regain their right to vote recently overcame its largest hurdle, as the grassroots citizen’s initiative received enough signatures to place the issue on the 2018 ballot. This has prompted a similar proposal to be withdrawn in order to avoid confusion at the polls.

The fight for Florida felons to receive the right to vote just became a little easier. Former Senate Democratic Leaders Arthenia Joyner and Chris Smith withdrew their proposal from the Constitution Revision Commission, following the success of the citizens led ballot initiative earlier this week.  

“Our decision today, Senator Smith and mine, to withdraw our proposal is made knowing that the question will indeed appear on the November ballot, and that the people of Florida will finally have the opportunity to decide the question for themselves,” Joyner says 

This November, Florida voters will have the opportunity to decide whether felons’ should regain the right to vote, the final step in what has been a yearlong battle for the citizens’ initiative. It recently received the 766,200 signatures needed to place the issue on Florida’s 2018 ballot, leaving no room for Joyner and Smith’s plan.

Proposal 7 asked for felons to have their voting rights restored once they completed their sentencing terms, mirroring the citizens led ballot initiative very closely. To avoid confusion at the polls and creating a conflict of interest, Smith says, it only makes sense to withdraw, and urges others to do the same.

“Well I think the question is settled now. It’s on the ballot. And I think all the others need to be withdrawn also. Because the question is settled now. It’s on the ballot, Floridians will go vote in November yes or no," Smith says.

There is only one other similar proposal still pending before the Constitution Revision Commission. That one specifies which felons can and can’t regain the right to vote. Democratic Senator Daryl Rouson (D-St. Petersburg) says he appreciates Joyner and Smith’s withdrawal and will consider their request that he withdraws as more information comes in.

The final hurdle now is having 60 percent of Floridians vote yes on four. Smith does not think this will be an issue.

“Well I think you’ve seen people’s attitudes have changed towards this through the years. For the mere fact that bills are moving through the House and the Senate now. For years, we couldn’t even get them scheduled. So now, you see that people’s attitudes are changing, and we’re very confident that over 60 percent will vote for this,” Smith says

Joyner and Smith are also confident that this will reduce a lot of the power Florida Governor Rick Scott has on the process of felons regaining their voting rights. When Scott first took office, he and the rest of the cabinet – which makes up the clemency board, reversed the automatic restoration of felon voting rights upon the completion of their sentences.

“But Governor Scott has sat like a King with the thumbs up and thumbs down. You’re having people travel from Miami-Dade, driving all the way up here to go through an entire process just to have Governor Scott, arbitrarily, say no,” Smith says.

Joyner and Smith are now focusing their efforts on promoting amendment four.