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Felons Left Out Of 2020 Primaries After Court Date Set On Election Day

Florida Early Voting
Wilfredo Lee
A poll worker wearing personal protective equipment deposits a Vote-by-Mail ballot for a voter, Monday, Aug. 3, 2020, at a poling station at the Miami-Dade County Elections Department in Miami. Monday marked the first day of early voting for the 2020 Primary Election in Miami-Date County and runs through Sunday, Aug. 16. Voters can drop off their Vote-by-Mail ballots at any of the 23 early voting sites without having to go inside the polling place. (AP Photo/Wilfredo Lee)

Vote by mail began this week in Florida for the 2020 Primary Election and thousands of ballots have already been cast. Not part of this election however is millions of felons who won’t be allowed to vote. Those given the right back through Amendment 4 have been stymied by the court's most recent action, and those waiting for clemency likely won’t get a chance.

United States Court of Appeals for the Eleventh Circuit
Mike Stewart
This July 21, 2012 photo, shows the exterior of the U.S. Courthouse for the 11th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in Atlanta. The state of Alabama is asking a federal appeals court to toss a lawsuit accusing lawmakers of racial discrimination for blocking a minimum-wage increase in majority-black Birmingham. At issue in arguments scheduled Tuesday, June 25, 2019, before the 11th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals is a 2016 law requiring every city in Alabama to have the same minimum wage. (AP Photo/Mike Stewart)

When the 11th Circuit Court of Appeals granted a hold on a ruling clearing the way for tens of thousands of Florida felons to register to vote, activists blasted the move as a stop on democracy. The decision was the latest in a long court battle between voting rights advocates and the state over whether felons had to repay fines, fees, and restitution before they can cast ballots. The first hearing on the appeal is set for August 18, the same day as Florida’s primary.

“This isn’t something that’s a legislative attempt, this is not an executive order this is something that through the democratic process people came from both sides of the aisles to say we want them to vote," said Jorge Vasquez. "Now we have a governor using his interpretation to say, “No”. And then now we have a court that’s saying, “not yet.”

Vasquez is the Power & Democracy Director for the Advancement Project National Office. He says the recent court action is one that could have implications on the upcoming election since it impacts such a large number of people.

"The person who won the last presidential election won Florida by less than 1%. And we know that 750,000 is more than 1% of the vote in Florida," said Vasquez.

But Amendment 4 isn’t the only thing stopping the rights restoration process, there’s also clemency.

“You have to wait ten years after you’ve completed all your sentencing and paid all your fines so I waited ten years, I applied," Roggenkamp said. "I’m now on year seven I believe of that application."

Jeremy Roggenkamp has been waiting nearly two decades to get his rights back. While his voting rights were restored years ago, he’s hoping for a full pardon.

“Like right now my wife and I are considering moving and we want to sell the house and buy a new house. Well, we may need to get an apartment for a month or two in the meantime. Man! I just had a terrifying thought how am I going to get an apartment?" said Roggenkamp. "If they run a background check on me I’m not going to get that place.'

And though he’s employed, finding well-paying jobs has also been hard.

The clemency process was nearly automatic for decades in Florida, but in 2011, then-Governor Rick Scott put a stop to it. Bob Rackleff is the founder of the Big Bend Voting Rights Project.

Florida Cabinet
Steve Cannon
Gov. Ron DeSantis, second from left, presides over the Florida cabinet meeting consisting of Attorney General Ashley Moody, left, Chief Financial Officer Jimmy Patronis, and Commissioner of Agriculture Nikki Fried, far right, Tuesday June 4, 2019, in Tallahassee, Fla. (AP Photo/Steve Cannon)

“People lost their ability to get their rights restored through the clemency process ten years ago when Governor Scott and the cabinet basically shut down that system. There were only about 3,000 people who got their right to vote in the following 8 years," said Rackleff.

Agriculture Commissioner Nikki Fried sits on the current clemency board for the state.

"We’ve got 17,000 pending applications on the clemency board. And as you’ve just heard we haven’t met since 2019 and even in the four meetings last year I think the most amount of hearings we had was 95," said Fried.

Fried’s called for a change to the rules.

“I have called since taking office for an overhaul of the clemency rules designed to be crushingly restrictive, designed to be voter suppression, designed to disenfranchise those that have paid their debt to society," said Fried.

For now, people like Roggenkamp are still waiting.

Blaise Gainey is a State Government Reporter for WFSU News. Blaise hails from Windermere, Florida. He graduated from The School of Journalism at the Florida A&M University. He formerly worked for The Florida Channel, WTXL-TV, and before graduating interned with WFSU News. He is excited to return to the newsroom. In his spare time he enjoys watching sports, Netflix, outdoor activities and anything involving his daughter.