Florida’s process for restoring voting rights relies too much on the whims of the governor and a small panel, U.S. District Judge Mark Walker ruled. Walker described Florida’s process: “To vote again, disenfranchised citizens must kowtow before a panel of high-level government officials over which Florida’s governor has absolute veto authority. No standards guide the panel. Its members alone must be satisfied that these citizens deserve restoration.”
The judge ordered both sides in the case to submit briefs by Feb. 12 on how to permanently fix Florida’s system, according to the Miami Herald. It’s unclear at this point how this would impact the 2018 midterm elections. Since this is a federal case, it has nationwide implications. African Americans have been disproportionately impacted by the type of unconstitutional procedure that Florida uses.
This decision came less than two weeks after a campaign gathered enough signatures to approve a ballot measure that would restore the voting rights of about 1.5 million felons in Florida, including 21.5 percent of the state’s African American population. It is scheduled for a statewide vote in November, which now appears unnecessary if Florida does not appeal the ruling.
Florida is one of a handful of states that does not automatically restore voting rights after its citizens finish serving their time in prison. Approximately 6.1 million felons across the country have lost their right to vote, according to the Sentencing Project. Mississippi, Tennessee and Virginia are among the states with large populations of Black felons who must petition their states to restore their voting rights.
There’s plenty of reason for Republicans to stay awake at night worrying about the political impact of the ruling. An estimated 258,060 felons would register as Democrats and just 46,920 would join the Republican Party, according to a study reported by the Sentencing Project.