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Judge Slams Clemency Board for Violating Ex-Felons' Voting Rights

Judge Mark Walker bent Florida's clemency board over his knee and gave it a spanking.

With a figurative flair, the federal judge said the board's arbitrary and "unfettered discretion" over felons' voting rights violates the Constitution. He compared it to a prison guard taking the key and swallowing it.

"Only when the state has digested and passed that key in the unforeseeable future, maybe in five years, maybe in 50 ... does the state, in an 'act of mercy' unlock the former felon's voting rights from its hiding place," he wrote in Hand v. Scott.

Felons' Voting Rights

According to reports, the ruling potentially unlocks the door for 1.5 million ex-felons to reclaim their right to vote. The judge ordered the parties in the case to file motions by Feb. 12 on how to remedy the problem.

In Florida, the governor-led clemency board has the exclusive authority to restore convicts' voting rights. The Fair Elections Legal Network, a national voting rights group, filed the lawsuit last year on behalf of nine ex-felons seeking to vote.

"Today, a federal court said what so many Floridians have known for so long -- that the state's arbitrary restoration process, which forces former felons to beg for their right to vote, violates the oldest and most basic principles of our democracy," said Jon Sherman, senior counsel for FELN.

Gov. Rick Scott said he would continue to defend the clemency board's power. A spokesman said "convicted felons should show that they can lead a life free of crime and be accountable to their victims and our communities."

On the Ballot

While the case goes up on appeal, Floridians will have a chance to vote on the issue in November. The Orlando Sentinel said voters' rights groups put a constitutional amendment on the ballot to restore automatically voting rights to felons after they complete their sentences.

If 60 percent of voters approve the measure, it becomes law. Darryl Paulson, a professor at the University of South Florida St. Petersburg, said the court ruling will help.

"These legal issues have existed in Florida for a long time," he told the newspaper.

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