For Our Future hosts Voting Rights Panel

Panelists called to lift the lifetime ban on voting for felons by petitioning for its place on the 2018 ballot.


Panelists (from left to right) Geraldine Harriel, Roderick Kemp, Mark Schneider and Dr. Wendy Hinshaw talking about their motivations to become activists for voting rights of former felons. Photo by Amber Kelley.

Destiny Harris, Devin Perry, and Amber Kelley

Advocates for restoring voting rights for convicted felons in Florida spoke in a panel-style forum on Thursday, hosted by For Our Future, a political action group.

Panelists for the event included ex-felons Roderick Kemp and Geraldine Harriel, President of the American Civil Liberties Union of Palm Beach Mark Schneider and FAU English professor Dr. Wendy Hinshaw.

A felony charge is defined as any crime that results in a prison sentence of more than one year. These may include non-violent drug possessions or multiple traffic tickets.

Jeffrey Coltman-Cormier is the president of the For Our Future chapter at FAU.

“Due to Florida’s status of being one of only three states in the United States which has a lifetime ban on voting for ex-felons, 1.6 million Floridians, or 1 in 10 Floridians, cannot vote due to being an ex-felon,” said Coltman-Cormier.

Dr. Wendy Hinshaw talked about the lack of public awareness about ex-felon rights until it happens to them or a loved one.

“When you complete a wrong and complete the punishment for it, you should be able to move on,” Hinshaw said.

Hinshaw stressed that there is no reason for a citizen to permanently lose their voting rights.

Ex-felons may file an appeal to restore your voting rights, though, the process is rigorous. After filing the paperwork, they must go before a judge at the Clemency Board in Tallahassee.

Many ex-felons struggle to secure transportation or afford professional attire following their release. If the appeal is denied, there is a two year wait period to reapply.

“Prisoners have more need to vote than any other citizen in the United States because they are the people who experienced the power of the state most directly,” said panelist Mark Schneider. “So they have the most reason to know the state and how our democracy works.”

Hand v. Scott, an ongoing district case against Rick Scott, argues that “there are no laws, rules or regulations governing the Board’s determinations, which remain wholly arbitrary,” citing multiple cases where ex-felons are both turned away and given their rights back despite being in almost identical circumstances.

“Voting is a basic human right,” said panelist Roderick Kemp, an activist who also had his rights stored in 2016 after a felony conviction 30 years ago.

“There are political reasons for this and it’s about controlling the vote. Since the Civil War, laws have been designed to control the vote and disenfranchise parts of society. And Florida is the one of only three remaining states that has a difficult time with this,” said Kemp.

Panelist Geraldine Harriel talked about her experience when she went before a judge at the Clemency Board years ago.

“You’re not even fitted for the guidelines when you go before the court, you’re over sentenced. They’re punishing us cruelly and we have to be careful of our lifestyle from now on because it will affect our future,” Harriel said.

In 2015, with our current Governor Rick Scott, 427 people had their rights restored compared to 2010, when Charlie Crist was governor, with 27,000 voting-rights restored during that year.  

At the end of the panel discussion, students in attendance were encouraged to sign a petition to put a bill restoring voting rights to nonviolent felons on the ballot.

Amber Kelley is a contributing writer for University Press. For information regarding this or other stories, email [email protected].

Devin Perry is a contributing writer for University Press. For information regarding this or other stories, email [email protected].

Destiny Harris is a contributing writer for University Press. For information regarding this or other stories, email [email protected].