NOVEMBER 15, 2005
What do Florida, California and Iowa have in common? All three states have recently been involved in the controversy relating to laws that ban felons from voting.
Let’s start with Florida, one of three states (along with Kentucky and Virginia) that doesn’t automatically restore a felon’s voting right upon prison release. The United States Supreme Court refused this week to review the state’s 137-year old law that bans felons from voting. Civil rights groups representing the 600,000 felons challenging the law argued that it is discriminatory because blacks comprise a disproportionate number of the former convicts banned from voting (Miami Herald). Florida Governor Jeb Bush does, however, have a system in place to review and restore voting rights of felons who have served their time and since 1999 the right has been restored to nearly 55,000.
Now we go to California to perhaps illustrate why the Florida law, approved by voters in 1868, makes some sense. Recently, an imprisoned felon won a seat on the board of the Romoland School District in Southern California’s Riverside County. Convicted of burglary, spousal abuse and drug possession, Randy Hale got his name on the ballot by lying about his felon status. How? When he registered to vote in August, he signed a card that promised he was not a felon (LA Times article). California State Registrar Barbara Dunmore was quoted in the story as saying: “It’s a statewide honor system, basically.” Somehow it is difficult to associate honor with a convicted felon.
Finally, we go to Iowa where the governor, Democrat Tom Vilsack, recently won praise from liberal groups nationwide for signing an executive order that automatically restores voting rights to felons. The group TalkLeft.com offered “praise” and “kudos.”
Perhaps Iowa will soon see a situation similar to the one in California since a felon”s “honor” will ultimately decide if he gets to vote.
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