A solid majority of Florida voters sought to right a wrong by supporting constitutional Amendment 4 in the elections that ended Tuesday.
Titled "Voting Restoration Amendment," the citizen-driven initiative was designed to reverse Florida's discriminatory and arduous, yet ambiguous, efforts to prevent former felons from regaining their rights to participate in the fundamental practice of representative democracy — even after they have done their time.
Approval of more than 60 percent of voters is required for proposed amendments to pass and be incorporated into the Florida Constitution. Statewide, 64.5 percent of Floridians casting ballots on this measure voted in favor.
As we at the Panama City New Herald have written previously, passage of Amendment 4 was simply the right thing to do. Despite having fulfilled their obligations, more than 1.5 million ex-felons in Florida — the largest number of any state — have been denied voting rights.
Passage of an amendment was necessary to change the status quo because the state constitution currently states: "No person convicted of a felony ... shall be qualified to vote or hold office under restoration of civil rights ...."
What's more, under Gov. Rick Scott, it became even more difficult for former felons to receive clemency and have their voting rights restored. Florida became an extreme outlier in that regard: Only two other states, Iowa and Kentucky, permanently revoke voting rights in the absence of an official act of clemency.
Many states automatically restore the voting rights of people convicted of lesser and nonviolent offenses. Passage and implementation of Amendment 4 will place Florida in the mainstream.
The News Herald recognizes that many Floridians don't feel sorry for ex-felons and believe they don't deserve the ability to vote. But despite the terms of disqualification, the state constitution extends voting rights to U.S. citizens who are at least 18 and are permanent residents of Florida.
Furthermore, denying voting rights does nothing to protect public safety or advance the common good; it erects yet another barrier that makes it more difficult for former inmates to reintegrate into society.
According to the ballot summary: "This amendment restores the voting rights of Floridians with felony convictions after they complete all terms of their sentence including parole or probation. The amendment would not apply to those convicted of murder or sexual offenses, who would continue to be permanently barred from voting unless the Governor and Cabinet vote to restore their voting rights on a case by case basis."
Fortunately, the ballot language gave voters a clear summary of the amendment's intent and provided the Legislature with a direct path to follow.
The question now, and when the Legislature convenes early next year for its annual session, is whether lawmakers will follow the direction from voters. Unfortunately, legislators have erected barriers that have hindered implementation of other amendments, including those involving access to medical marijuana and the preservation of environmentally valuable lands.
The Legislature should act with deliberate speed to implement Amendment 4 — without creating additional barriers — to respect the will of voters and to do the right thing.
REPRINTED FROM THE PANAMA CITY NEWS HERALD