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Nancy Smith

COUNTERPOINT: Denying Voting Rights to Felons Should Be Beneath Us

June 8, 2019 - 7:45am

The felons' voting-rights tug-of-war showcases the worst -- the very worst -- of America's political parties. Who gets to vote should be driven by citizenship, the spirit of the United States Constitution and all America stands for, not by blowhardism and dirty tricks.

Neither party before or since Amendment 4 has summoned its better angels.

But I must tell you, I think the Republicans in the Legislature have really blown this one.

First, the argument for keeping the incarcerated and the newly released off the voting rolls is based on an archaic punitive disciplinary structure. We should have moved on from that a long time ago. Clinging to a wrong-headed facet of our electoral process just to deny voting rights to an estimated 1.5 million of the state's eligible voters -- 3 percent of the nation's -- is a structure no democratic country, let alone a strong, self-confident republic like ours, should tolerate.

The Florida Legislature wants to require people with felony convictions to pay back all court fines and fees before registering to vote.

This requirement will prevent hundreds of thousands of ex-felons from ever in their lives voting. Heck, they won't even try. Why? Because they won't be able to afford it. Florida charges defendants “user fees.” That's how we finance our criminal justice system. We saddle them with massive fines as soon as they're convicted. Most defendants fall down a financial hole from which they can never escape. 

According to the Brennan Center for Justice, "Floridians convicted of a felony have to pay to obtain a public defender ($100 to $1,000) and to reinstate a suspended driver’s license ($60 to $500). Receive medical treatment in prison? You’re on the hook for the cost. You can pay it out of your inmate bank deposit, but maintaining banking services behind bars will cost you $6 a month."

People who entered prison poor sink deeper once inside. They come out of prison buried in a crushing debt.

I ask you honestly, would you tolerate court-cost-and-fee restrictions like these if they were imposed on your free speech, free assembly, freedom of religion or freedom to petition government for redress of grievances? How about your freedom from "unreasonable" searches, or the right to counsel? Of course you wouldn't. You would be the first to scream, "This is America! This shouldn't be happening!"

It's true, the "right to vote" is a kind of stepchild in the family of American rights, which is why each state individually gets to define what that means. 

But it's especially unsavory to me, who grew up believing the vote and citizenship were synonymous. Both sacred. My grandmother was one of the original marching, sign-carrying New England suffragettes. I was inspired by her stories of fighting for women's rights. The Constitution may not have given women voting rights either -- at least, not specifically -- but it inspired millions of people like my grandmother to super-patriotism and an abiding pride in this nation. Listening to her stories, she became one of the great heroes of my life.

I also think the largely Republican Legislature keeps shooting itself in the foot when it fails to follow the will of the voters. The felons' voting rights bill is 2016's Amendment 2 -- The Florida Medical Marijuana Legalization Initiative -- all over again. 

Some 71.32 percent of the voters in 2016 explicitly approved allowing medical marijuana as a treatment for patients with a laundry list of specific diseases. The voters had spoken. That should have been it. But instead of working to make it happen as soon as possible, Republican lawmakers did their darndest to throw obstacles up. Voters expressed their anger by electing marijuana lobbyist and cheerleader Nikki Fried over Rep. Matt Caldwell, albeit by a narrow margin.

If a felon serves his time and returns to society, he ought to be able to engage as a citizen and vote. In fact, he should be encouraged to. That voter's card is the one card in his wallet that shouldn't cost a thing. Whether he decides to vote at election time is anybody's guess. But I'm thinking felons are probably as motivated as the rest of Florida's eligible voters: A guaranteed 40 percent of them will show up at the polls -- if it's not raining.

Republicans would get a bigger boost by laying down their arms, walking a higher road, and developing a program to connect with ex-felons. They have the better agenda.

Reach Nancy Smith at or at 228-282-2423. Twitter: @NancyLBSmith  


Every Constitutionalist interpets the Constitution depending on their bias. The best way to determine the truth? Whomever interpets it to the benefit of all Americans. Any person who interpets the Constitution in a way that denies any citizen a right that they grant to themselves, is a partisan wingnut. Even the mighty Scalia fell short too often. In doubt? Read the 13th, 14th and 15th Amendments. The 13th defines incarceration as a "condition of servitude", the 14th, unfortunately, allows the right to vote to be suspended. The 15th clearly says that no prior condition of servitude shall bar the right to vote. If you're willing to deny someone else's rights while retaining yours you're a hypocrite and acting unamerican. No citizen should ever have their rights restricted. Including the 2nd.

"No citizen should ever have their rights restricted". Really? Not even when they are a Democrat party activist named John Wayne Gacy?

The only crime which could result in loss of citizenship, in stripping of Constitutional Rights. Article III, Section 3. Treason. Congress shall have the power to declare the punishment of Treason. With no limitations listed. The Constitution was designed to define and protect the rights of Americans. So. Go read it and quote Article and Section. Or Amendment. Where are those exceptions that allow citizens rights to be stripped. The most important rights to protect are those we disagree with because if we don't protect them we can't expect anyone to protect ours.

So you would do away with jails and prisons because incarcerating a lawbreaking citizen takes away their right to participate in free society, and according to you, that's against the constitution?

The most important rights to protect are those we disagree with because if we don't protect them nobody will protect ours. When government is allowed to make exceptions you may be the next exception. No taxation without representation. Our Founders fought a war against that. When a person has no voice in the government that rules over them, they are a subject not a citizen. Subjects have been known to rebel. Our Founders did.

Please don't confuse a revolt by anti-societal criminal convicts with the rebellion for our nation's independence.

Did you ever bother to read the Constitution? Ever wonder why they included rights to protect people? Because every one of our Founders was considered a criminal by the crown. Subject to death if captured. They never intended for a citizen to lose their rights, ever.

When you make the decision to harm your fellow citizen, you lose the right to walk among your fellow citizens and participate in society - that includes the right to vote. But since the majority of criminals are Democrats, the DNC wants their votes whether dirty or not.

Like all good Republicans everywhere, voter suppression is the name of the game in Florida!

and like every "good dem", you would extend voting rights to all non-citizens as as well as card carrying criminals.

Bravo, well done, its nice to see someone just be honest for a change and state what this was really done for...

Very well stated, I don't always agree with what you have to say, but this is well done. I don't think this conforming law was done to codify the law at all. It was done with the full knowledge that most Felons will never recover from the crushing debt they encounter while incarcerated, and therefore, will never vote. I would say it should be appealled to the SCOTUS, but I fear they may be bought and paid for as well...

It "should be beneath us",.. BUT IT'S NOT; let them apply for a Governor's PARDON for their crimes, on an individual basis. Far too much of what we "excuse, or overlook", on a "mass basis" becomes quickly and permanently detrimental to the peace & harmony of our non-criminal population...

They did the crime, they paid in time. At some point they need to come home and be normal. What do you want-a pound of flesh?

They weren't "normal" BEFORE they left home and committed their crimes. DO THE TIME AND PAY THE OVERDUE BILLS ("flesh"?.. NO ! JUST PAYMENT OF LONG OVERDUE "DEBTS"!

When you make the decision to harm your fellow citizen, you lose the right to walk among your fellow citizens and participate in society - that includes the right to vote. But since the majority of criminals are Democrats, the DNC wants their votes whether dirty or not.

A true and sad testament of our modern day society. Try to remember that before you brand yourself a republican or a democrat you are a citizen first. When you walk into to your halls to worship your god remember your kindness in this world, sow good seeds for tomorrow.

That is what we do as Citizens (rather than incarcerate, protect ourselves from, shun, physically punish, counsel, put to death, etc.), "sow good seeds for tomorrow". When those "seeds" are ignored by those who commit serious crimes, THEY are compelled by Citizens (via prosecution & trial) to lose and/or forfeit "rights".... As it should be !

Do you believe that these felons can be rehabilitated?

With some exceptions, that requires a case by case analysis. No doubt the prison system changes many of these people in a negative way. However, the first responsibility of the prison system is to keep dangerous people out of the general population where they cannot harm law abiding citizens. Take a poll of your neighbors about how much they want to be taxed to help prisoners have a better future. Now you have a better idea of the complications.

To the best of your knowledge, do you subscribe to the modern day crucifixion? Yes there are people who are violent and destructive to a peaceful society, and they should be confined, my concern is for non violent people who have been swept up in the law and order business.

The predilection for violence is often primarily found in heretofore non-violent criminals "swept up in the law and order business" (as you so cavalierly claim "Bill-1"),... BUT "they" are often still in the "journeymen" stages of their criminal careers while learning how lie, cheat, steal, manipulate & worse, to take advantage of their feilow man...often leading directly to violence; they see NO distinction between "right & wrong!...and don't deserve "voting rights", since they have NOT been "contributing Citizens"! ! !

By "contributing Citizens" do you mean to say complicit in this tarnation, I am a citizen who wants to contribute to healing our world. I wonder how close we are in thinking and and world view, I need to take rest and dream perchance.

We're "miles apart" in our rational thinking, and world view "Bill-1"; so, rest, and ever endeavor to dream "enlightenment"...One day, it might just appear to you...

Yeah, Bill probably has a job fat boy and is a responsible contributer to his society. You on the other hand, eat the chesse in one breath, then complain about it in the next. You are everything that is wrong with this country. You are entitlement by race, which is the worst scumbag to walk the planet. Haul ass back to NY and get a job tiny!

We might be miles apart, yet we are neighbors and hopefully working in deed and in spirit towards a common goal. The many hopeless are looking for voices, can they count on you?

Bill, it is no use, you are miles above them in intellect and wisdom. These fools actually believe Trump is a hero, instead of the petty criminal those grounded in reality see him as... I firmly believe the stats that 97% of his support comes from the uneducated. This site is proof of!

Oh, yes "enlightenment" states the shrill rightwing voice that demonizes women, African-Americans, Hispanics, Moslems, Jews . . . . . . and everyone else who doesn't follow his skinhead philosophy . . . . . . . . PATHETIC . . . . .

Sounds like the typical rabid left-winger.

If that's what you sling at truth-sayers (from an obvious Trumpite), I'll take it . . . . . . . . just a few of C. Breeze's many slimy quotes: WOMEN - "Women assuming a position of power wield it like no others, with pettiness, animosity and vindictiveness" . . . . . . AFRICAN-AMERICANS - "obama looks like a dog turd. . . Trump is "head & shoulders" above the niggler who preceded him" . . . . . . . HISPANICS - " "Illegal Alien Invaders"..., as well as 250,000 Puerto Rican "escapee" U.S.Citizens who have no desire to return to Puerto Rico, and rebuild it..!" . . . . . . . . MOSLEMS - "America must stop facilitating the breeding of potential jihadists to Illegal Alien Invaders inside of our own borders" . . . Muslims mistakenly believe they can subtlety occupy America and 'take over' with no American CITIZEN resistance" . . . . . . JEWISH - "her Jewish heritage "cringes" in memory of the NAZI "Crystal Nacht" demonstration when her forebearers were rounded up on freight the NAZI's also justified their actions as "democracy" " . . . . . . . but then, I'm sure you just believe in the accuracy and non-racism in these statements, as a good Trumpite, don't you . . . . . . . . it's just FUN to push fear and belittlement to those of other genders, races and religions, isn't it . . . . . . . . . .PATHETIC . . . . . .


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nancy smith
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