It's not often that we citizens — busy with work, paying the bills, living our lives — find ourselves with the power to right a fundamental wrong.
But here in Florida, we're about to get that chance.
On the November ballot — among all those candidates who want to be your governor, senator, county commissioner or even trusty representative on a Mosquito Control Board — you'll find a basic question of fairness contained in the proposed Amendment 4.
Essentially, it asks:
Shouldn't people who have been convicted of felonies, done their time and completed all the requirements of their probation or parole — except in cases of murder and sex crimes — get the chance to become contributing members of society again?
And specifically, be allowed to vote?
And shouldn't this very American right be automatically restored as it is in plenty of other states — though not under Florida Gov. Rick Scott, who changed the rules after he got here?
I realize that convicted criminals are not the most empathy-evoking population. But most of us were taught in our playground days that if you break the rules, you get punished. And when your punishment is done, you get to start over. You get at least the chance to be someone in good standing again.
The people currently running Florida, however, prefer a Star Chamber method.
Just for starters, someone who wants his rights restored has to wait five years to even apply to an already backlogged system. Eventually he'll have to plead his case — to "kowtow," as a federal judge put it — to the Clemency Board, which consists of Scott and the state attorney general, chief financial officer and agriculture commissioner.
It is an arbitrary process. The person might get asked if he goes to church.
And Scott, who hopes to oust incumbent Bill Nelson from the U.S. Senate, has absolute veto power. As the federal judge who sided with a challenge to this process this year noted: "No standards guide the panel. Its members alone must be satisfied that these citizens deserve restoration."
Florida accounts for about 1.4 million people who have done their time but still aren't allowed to vote — about a quarter of all such people in the United States. Minorities are disproportionately affected, and they tend to vote Democrat, if you're looking for motive here.
To the argument that felons gave up their rights when they became criminals, okay, there are practical considerations, too. The numbers have shown people allowed to rejoin the world this way are less likely to commit new crimes, which I think we can all agree is a good thing. And reducing the number of people who get arrested, go to court and go to jail saves money.
So here's Florida's chance.
Amendment 4 needs 60 percent of the vote to pass. That's a hurdle — though maybe not as daunting as those roadblocks set up by the Scott administration to effectively keep a portion of the population from participating.
It's a big deal, this idea of citizens having the power to right a statewide wrong on the ballot. Usually, change is dull, lengthy and unsatisfying — we elect public officials and hope they will one day do the right thing by us while we're busy living our lives.
But come November, Floridians get to decide what's fair.