Judge rules Florida system for restoring felon voting rights unconstitutional

Florida Governor Rick Scott. Photo: Drew Angerer/Getty Images

A federal judge on Thursday ruled that the process by which Florida grants or denies former felons the right to vote after completing their sentence violates the U.S. Constitution.

Why it matters: Florida is one of four states to constitutionally prohibit ex-felons from voting, giving only the governor the power to restore their voting rights. The policy affects an estimated 1.5 million convicted felons in a state that bans more people from voting than any other.

What this means: U.S. District Court Judge Mark E. Walker did not immediately restore voting rights to ex-felons. Walker ordered further briefing from both parties on the appropriate remedy. His ruling came without a trial.

  • In his 43-page ruling, Walker took aim at the restoration process he said unfairly relies on the personal support of Gov. Rick Scott. Former felons have to apply for their voting rights to considered. This comes with a waiting period of 5 to 8 years.

The backdrop: This comes more than a week after the state approved a referendum allowing Florida voters to decide in November whether to restore voting rights to some convicted felons. If passed with at least 60% approval, it has the potential to shift the makeup of the country’s largest swing state.

Go deeper: Read the court ruling here; The decades-long fight for Florida's ex-felons to regain voting rights