TALLAHASSEE | There was broad agreement Wednesday among members of the Constitutional Revision Commission’s Ethics and Elections Committee that Florida’s application-based system for restoration of voting rights is deeply flawed.


Convicted felons must wait either five or seven years after completing their sentences before they are eligible to request having their voting rights restored. After that, the average wait time for a hearing before the Clemency Board is more than nine years.

Former state Sen. Don Gaetz said the process being used by Gov. Rick Scott and three Cabinet members to screen and review applications is managed in a way that gives the impression the state isn’t interested in helping felons regain their right to vote.

“I am now convinced that this system has to be fixed,” he said. “We don’t have an honest process here, and it’s designed not to work and it’s not accountable.”

Committee members became incredulous during a presentation from Julia McCall, coordinator of the Office of Executive Clemency, about the current restoration of rights process.

McCall said that about 300 cases are scheduled for a hearing with the Clemency Board each year from the 6,000 applications received annually. The average wait for a hearing is 9.2 years, and about 10,000 applications are pending at any given time.

The Clemency Board consists of Gov. Rick Scott and the three Cabinet members: Attorney General Pam Bondi, Agriculture Commissioner Adam Putnam and Chief Financial Officer Jimmy Patronis. In order for a restoration of rights application to be approved, Scott plus at least two Cabinet members must vote “yes.” So Scott alone can deny a request.

Ethics and Elections Committee Vice Chairman Frank Kruppenbacher said he was hopeful he and his colleagues could move quickly on a fix.

“Nobody should wait that long,” he said. “If you want to put somebody back into society and let them feel equal and have their self-respect, you don’t disenfranchise them for years and years and years.”

The Constitutional Revision Commission has not said when it will begin weighing in on proposals that have been submitted on myriad topics. If 20 of 27 commission members agree on a proposal, it will be put on the ballot for voter consideration in 2018.

Ethics and Elections Committee members said wording on any restoration of rights proposal must be carefully chosen in order to give it the best chances of getting the 60-percent support necessary to become law.

Wednesday’s meeting included a presentation from Florida State University College of Law professor Wayne Logan about disenfranchisement laws nationwide. Logan said debate about restoration of rights has increased over the past 20 years, especially in conversations about reintegrating former inmates into society in order to reduce recidivism.

Disenfranchisement laws refer to a time in U.S. history when the right to vote was considered a privilege that people who committed serious crimes were no longer worthy of, Logan said. He told the committee that his personal view is that felons should be allowed to vote once they have completed their prison sentences, including probation, and paid any fines or restitution.

“That’s consistent with the idea that you’ve paid your debt to society and you therefore should be restored,” he said.

Gregory George, president of the Student Bar Association at Florida A&M University College of Law, encouraged committee members to lead the charge.

“For too long, Florida has been behind the curve on this issue,” George said. “This committee can change that. This committee can take a position that once an individual has served their time for crimes they commit they should be able to return to society to work, to own property, to start a business, to vote and to be productive members.”

Tia Mitchell: (850) 933-1321