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March 31, 2008

Florida showcases felon franchise challenges

Writing in today's Wall Street Journal, Gary Fields has this strong piece headlined "Felons' Voting Requests Pile Up: Florida's Process To Restore Suffrage Illustrates Haze." Here are excerpts:

Republican Gov. Charlie Crist went against his party a year ago and made it easier for felons to regain their voting rights. The process has been slow, however -- stirring controversy in a state expected to be closely fought in this fall's elections.  Florida's clemency board has restored voting rights to nearly 75,000 residents.  But nearly 96,000 requests are pending, according to information through March 20.  Activists say there might be an additional 400,000 people who have been rejected without explanation, making it impossible for them to be reinstated.

The fate of these votes is especially sensitive in Florida, where George W. Bush claimed the presidency by a mere 537 votes in 2000.  But similar tensions are playing out across the country, with 5.3 million U.S. citizens unable to vote because of felony convictions -- including four million people who are no longer in prison, according to the Brennan Center for Justice at the New York University School of Law....

Restoring the rights of all five million felons who can't vote is complicated by this patchwork system, said University of Florida political scientist Richard Scher, who noted, "There is no uniformity."...

In Florida, churches are hosting rights-restoration sessions. The Florida Rights Restoration Coalition, a group of 40 organizations, is planning a daylong rally for April 1 in Tallahassee. The state's clemency board is trying to reach out to as many people as possible to tell them of the changes....

The change in Florida was controversial from the start. Mr. Crist's initial proposal was opposed by two Republicans who were members of the executive clemency board, Attorney General Bill McCollum and Secretary of Agriculture Charles Bronson.  Mr. Crist revamped the idea, limiting the scope to nonviolent offenders, and Mr. Bronson signed on.  To qualify, those felons must have completed their prison term, probation and parole, if applicable, and made any payments the court orders, including child support....

Roger Clegg, president and general counsel of the Center for Equal Opportunity, a conservative legal advocacy group, said the old system could have been improved, but the new system goes too far.  Each case should be reviewed, he said. "To assume someone has turned over a new leaf because they've walked out of prison doesn't make sense."

March 31, 2008 at 09:12 AM | Permalink

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