Give felons and prisoners the right to vote

Rev. G. Gregg Murray

Dear Editor:

In April of 2016, Virginia Governor Terry McAuliffe restored voting rights to more than 200,000 convicted felons. It’s time for Florida to do the same moral and just thing.

An estimated 6.1 million people with a felony conviction are, by law, barred from voting in elections, which is a condition known as voting disenfranchisement. These laws that prohibit Americans with felony convictions from voting are one of the last remaining legal barriers to full democratic participation in our nation.

It’s time to change this nationwide because it is estimated that these laws keep one in 13 African Americans from voting. In 1985, the landmark Supreme Court case Hunter v. Underwood revealed the racist roots of felon disenfranchisement laws in Alabama. Persons convicted of crimes “involving moral turpitude” were not allowed to vote.

The black community was so disproportionately affected by this law, the Supreme Court struck it down and indeed found evidence that the law was passed to intentionally exclude blacks from the ballot. Alabama’s unabashed pursuit of white supremacy through the enactment of these laws rendered them unconstitutional.

There is a referendum in the upcoming Florida November 2018 election that puts this issue front and center and leaves it in the hands of the people as to whether or not Florida will do the right thing. Nearly three-quarters of Florida voters say they would support a ballot amendment to restore voting rights to ex-felons.

The time is right to change this injustice in the black community. This referendum even has bipartisan support! Ideologically, 92 percent of those who self-identify as “liberal” said they would vote for the amendment, while 59 percent who identify as “conservative” said the same.

Currently, 12 states bar felons from voting even after they have completed their sentences. And here in Florida, more than 10 percent of the voting-age population is stripped of a voice at the polls, mainly African Americans.

Why is Florida so overwhelmingly behind when America, as a nation, overwhelmingly believe in second chances and support the ability of people who have made a mistake to earn back their eligibility to vote?

We must also restore the rights of the millions of individuals who are still serving sentences. Prisoners too should be allowed to vote, no matter their crimes. Felons, whether in prison, on probation or parole or entirely free of state supervision, are still citizens.

They should not be treated like foreigners. There is no good reason to think felons are less equipped to vote than anyone else. They were competent to stand trial, and citizens in good standing must meet a far higher standard of incompetence to be denied the vote.

The importance of not depriving any citizen of a voice in government becomes especially clear in light of the origins of laws, which spread in the decades after the Civil War and have long been a central part of the legal arsenal with which states have tried to exclude African-Americans citizens from the polls.

Come Nov., Floridians will go to the polls to decide whether former felons should more easily regain their voting rights. I’m calling on righteous Floridians to support Florida Amendment 4, Voting Rights Restoration for Felons Initiative (2018).

Of the 6.1 million people who are forbidden to vote around the nation because of a felony conviction, Florida is home to a quarter of them. It’s time to change this injustice.

Amendment 4 would restore voting rights to Floridians with felony convictions once they complete all terms of their sentence, including parole, probation and restitution if imposed by a judge. Those convicted of murder or sexual offenses would be ineligible for restoration.

Pastor Murray, letterWe are calling for awareness and support of Amendment 4 because it impacts people and families from every community and all walks of life. Vote YES for second chances and vote YES on Amendment 4 in Nov.

Elder Dr. G. Gregg Murray, Pastor, Mt. Zion Primitive Baptist Church

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