MIAMI -- A retired US Air Force general, who also served as assistant secretary of the Navy, today added his voice to other Florida veterans who have pledged their support for Amendment 4 to the Florida Constitution, on the ballot in this midterm election.
Retired General John Douglass of Cocoa Beach, a native Floridian, announced that he had voted early, including a vote in favor of Amendment 4. If it passes, the amendment will return eligibility to vote to some 1.4 million Floridians who were convicted of crimes, have completed their sentences and probation and made all restitution, but are still denied the ability to vote under Florida’s 150-year-old, Jim Crow-era clemency laws. Persons convicted of homicide and sexual felonies are not covered by the amendment.
Among those currently unable to vote in Florida are thousands of military veterans.
“I want to urge my fellow Floridians to vote yes on the proposed amendment to the Florida constitution that would restore voting rights to individuals who have served their sentences and remained within the law,” Douglass said in a statement.
“I am especially concerned for the thousands of Florida veterans who have lost their voting privileges,” Douglass said. “Today our military services are an all-volunteer force. Our veterans have made a commitment to risk their lives to preserve our freedoms and our democracy.”
“Some of our veterans come home from the constant deployments of recent years with severe emotional and physical problems,” Douglass continued. “Far too often these veterans fall through the cracks in our state and federal support programs. When this happens these veterans often rely on drugs and other ways to relieve their mental or physical pain. This in turn often results in their becoming part of the penal system.”
Currently, a person in Florida who finishes his or her sentence and probation and makes restitution must wait 5 to 7 years before they can apply to have their eligibility to vote restored. The waiting list to have a case heard by the governor and members of his cabinet, who form the Clemency Board, is about 10 years long.
Florida prisons currently hold some 98,000 persons, 6 percent of who are veterans. Ten years ago, the rate was 8 percent; 20 years ago, it was 11 percent veterans. Many of those have never gotten back their eligibility to vote despite avoiding trouble with the law, meaning that thousands of veterans have been disenfranchised in Florida.
Douglass, who also served as a director of defense programs on the National Security Council during the Reagan Administration, urged support for Amendment 4.
“I believe we owe our veterans a chance to renew their participation in American citizenship and democracy,” he said. “Renewing their voting rights is a small, but important step in their journey to become full members of our democracy.
“Voting yes on this amendment gives us all a chance to welcome these veterans back to our democracy,” Douglass concluded. “They fought for us now we need to fight for them.”
Florida is one of only four states that decrees returning citizens must petition the governor for a return of their ability to vote. More such persons are disenfranchised in Florida than any other state.
Do the right thing. Vote YES on Amendment 4!