Florida: Big Increase in Ex-Offender Voting Requests

We all know that by the time the Supreme Court got done with Bush v. Gore, President Bush won Florida by 537 votes.

The Wall St. Journal (free link) reports that requests for restoration of voting rights is up in Florida.

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.

It's not just Florida. Across the country, there are 5.3 million people who have lost the right to vote due to felony convictions. The Brennan Center reports that 4 million of them are no longer in prison. [More...]

Maine and Vermont are the only states that allow felons to vote while incarcerated. Thirteen others and the District of Columbia allow inmates to regain the right to vote after their release, according to the Sentencing Project, a Washington advocacy group. Other states limit voting based on factors including the severity of a crime, the completion of probation and the payment of fines.

Churches are playing a big role in helping Florida's ex-offenders.

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. It held 17 hearings across the state and is preparing a leafleting campaign in convenience stores, churches and other well-traveled areas.

Inside the fellowship hall of the Greater Bethel AME Church in the Overtown area of Miami, more than 100 residents with criminal records listened to representatives from the state attorney and public defender offices explain how felons can register. Those with more-serious crimes worked their way to the table staffed by the ACLU and University of Miami School of Law students.

Not every former felon is eligible for re-instatement in Florida. Their crimes must have been non-violent, and those felons must have completed their prison term, probation and parole, if applicable, and made any payments the court orders, including child support."

The Sentencing Project has recent news of efforts to refranchise former felons. The Brennan Center's webpage on restoring voting rights is here.

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  • Display: Sort:
    From a partisan Democratic perspective (5.00 / 1) (#2)
    by andgarden on Mon Mar 31, 2008 at 09:52:29 PM EST
    this is excellent news. You almost get the impression that Crist, who has made a decent impression on me, amazingly, is trying to destroy his own party.

    It's also the right thing to do IMO.

    Another way to desenfrancise voters (5.00 / 1) (#5)
    by Prabhata on Mon Mar 31, 2008 at 10:11:02 PM EST
    There can be many reasons to take away the right to vote from a felon, but I cannot think of a valid one.

    ME NEITHER! (none / 0) (#17)
    by gyrfalcon on Tue Apr 01, 2008 at 12:55:25 AM EST
    What nonsense!  There's no justification whatsoever for taking the vote away from people who've served their time. I don't object a lot to denying the vote  to felons who are still incarcerated, although it seems kinda petty, but for people who have, as we like to say, "served their debt to society," it's just plain vindictive garbage.

    Unjust (5.00 / 1) (#9)
    by squeaky on Mon Mar 31, 2008 at 10:31:29 PM EST
    Vermont and Maine are doing the right thing.  It doesn't seem just that prisoners are counted as represented to benefit state and local government, and not allowed to vote.

    Crist (5.00 / 1) (#11)
    by CoralGables on Mon Mar 31, 2008 at 10:39:04 PM EST
    Anytime they have been released from jail after serving their sentence, voting rights should be restored. If you want to wait until any probationary period is over I could go along with that also. Taking away voting rights forever is unethical.

    As for Crist, the State of Florida is dipping into its 2 billion dollar "rainy day" fund which is supposed to be for emergency health care and hurricane issues. So far they are planning on spending $1.8 million of it this year just trying to balance the budget after pushing through a tax cut. The biggest cuts in services are from health and social services programs, affordable housing programs, and education. (naturally from the poor and those too young to vote)

    Crist certainly isn't all good, but in his defense he got a Bush budget dropped in his lap. Our next president might be able to learn from Crist's financial problems, although the next president inherits a Bush budget deficit that is off the scale.

    Correction (none / 0) (#15)
    by CoralGables on Mon Mar 31, 2008 at 11:52:38 PM EST
    Talking in millions and billions just doesn't come naturally for me...Crist is taking $1.8 "billion" out the "rainy day" fund to help balance his budget.

    Aren't felons counted for purposes of the census? (5.00 / 1) (#12)
    by Iphie on Mon Mar 31, 2008 at 11:07:18 PM EST
    I mean, I know they're counted, but at least in NY, prisoners are counted as part of the population for the purposes of drawing State Senate and Assembly districts. There are districts represented by conservative Republicans who hold onto their seats with a very small percentage of the population voting for them because a huge portion of that population is incarcerated.

    Obviously, it increases the power of the few in those districts who can vote, and at least in NY, gives disproportionate weight to a few rural counties and gives some very conservative pols the opportunity to "represent" people who would more than likely never vote for them. And then those pols go to Albany and have disproportionate power in an overwhelmingly Democratic state.

    Nice little racket they've got going there.

    It Hearkens Back To (none / 0) (#13)
    by squeaky on Mon Mar 31, 2008 at 11:21:43 PM EST
    Feudal times.

    In 21 counties, at least 21% of the population reported in the Census doesn't exist in that county except in one important way: on the Census form.
    And in those counties many of the local population make a living off the prisons. The congressperson winds up being like a lord or baron.

    Link (none / 0) (#14)
    by squeaky on Mon Mar 31, 2008 at 11:22:16 PM EST
    Thanks. That was my next question. (none / 0) (#16)
    by Iphie on Tue Apr 01, 2008 at 12:05:45 AM EST
    Here's another link (I haven't looked at yours yet) that I found looking specifically for NY -- and bonus! there's some interesting stuff on FL, too.
    Even as Wagner studied the issue in New York, Taren Stinebrickner-Kauffman, a Duke University math major, independently researched the same question, examining data in Florida. She found that most of that state's inmates were sent to prison from counties that voted for Vice President Al Gore in 2000 and are serving time in counties that voted for George W. Bush.

    I know Vilsack gave felons the right to vote... (none / 0) (#1)
    by Exeter on Mon Mar 31, 2008 at 09:51:35 PM EST
    in Iowa through governor powers / clemency. I wonder how many other dem governors could do this?

    Virginia is green on that map (none / 0) (#3)
    by andgarden on Mon Mar 31, 2008 at 09:53:10 PM EST
    so I wonder what powers Tim Kaine has.

    And these new voters will vote for republican (none / 0) (#4)
    by TalkRight on Mon Mar 31, 2008 at 10:10:48 PM EST
    McCain, if the democrats keep insulting the voters by denying them a say in this election.

    Doubt it (none / 0) (#8)
    by BlacknBlue on Mon Mar 31, 2008 at 10:29:17 PM EST
    A plurality of these former inmates will be African American males, going by statistics. Doubt they'd choose McCain over Obama.

    did not think about that.. good point (none / 0) (#21)
    by TalkRight on Tue Apr 01, 2008 at 09:17:08 AM EST
    how strange though!! the person who worked to get their vote count will not get the votes of the very same people!! but that is democracy.. eveyone has the right to vote for what ever prejudices they want to vote with..
    I heard McCain will be heavily targeting Latinos in FL and elsewhere.. and in case Hillary is not the nominee, he will surely succeed in getting their votes against Obama.

    I think the new governor (none / 0) (#6)
    by hairspray on Mon Mar 31, 2008 at 10:19:21 PM EST
    of Florida sounds like a big improvement over his predecessor, Jeb Bush.  Another thing the governor did was to call for the discarding of all touch screen voting.  I think it is expected to happen before the '08 election. He sounds like a decent guy to me.

    Half-decent (5.00 / 1) (#18)
    by gyrfalcon on Tue Apr 01, 2008 at 12:56:38 AM EST
    in comparison to Jebby.  But don't forget this is a guy who enthusiastically participated in the dirty trick on the Democratic primary that's causing such a mess for us.

    If churches are helping that probably means (none / 0) (#7)
    by athyrio on Mon Mar 31, 2008 at 10:23:58 PM EST
    right wing for most of them...Just a guess...

    In Central FL, it's the black churches. (5.00 / 1) (#10)
    by FlaDemFem on Mon Mar 31, 2008 at 10:33:20 PM EST
    Apparently, the white churches don't have anyone with a felon in the family. The black churches around here are the ones dealing with felons re-registering. I know, I got a request from a friend to print out all the instructions on how to do so at the state web page. She had the web addy for me. She is a member of a church aid committee that was starting to work on this problem in their community. In FL, as elsewhere, most of the prison population is not white. Not the sort of people right wing churches go for, in general.

    YOu of course have (none / 0) (#19)
    by Wile ECoyote on Tue Apr 01, 2008 at 04:51:49 AM EST
    a link should what you just stated, correct?

    A link? No, I had the personal experience (none / 0) (#22)
    by FlaDemFem on Tue Apr 01, 2008 at 09:26:08 AM EST
    of doing that for a local black church. It is a poor church and I am the internet research connection for them. I get legal and other information for them so they can deal with the ongoing problems of being black and poor in America. I am also the one who calls in legal help when needed. I have the Southern Poverty Law Center bookmarked and on speed dial, along with local equivalents. Not all of us can be famous crusaders, some of us just work on one step at a time, one problem at a time. And surprisingly, a lot gets done that way. And it seems to be more effective than all the oratory and promises that the politicians spew all over the place. Some people call it "grass roots activism", I call it being a good neighbor.

    This is great to hear, I've never understood (none / 0) (#20)
    by voterin2008 on Tue Apr 01, 2008 at 05:22:52 AM EST
    why felons who have paid their debt to society can not participate as citizens in our Democratic process.  Anyway you spin it I don't think its justified.

    In the olden days, (none / 0) (#23)
    by FlaDemFem on Tue Apr 01, 2008 at 09:36:30 AM EST
    the idea was that if a person disregarded other peoples' rights, by killing, robbing, or otherwise injuring them, that they should forfeit many of their own rights, such as the right to vote. Since that time, many crimes have been put into the felony category. But when the laws were passed, the majority of felonies were violent crimes against fellow citizens. And it was the general consensus that felons of that sort, should not have a say in who governs others since they can't even govern themselves. These days damn near everything is a felony, felonies are no longer just violent crimes against one's fellow citizens. I agree that most felons should be reinstated, but not the ones who killed or damaged people during the commission of their crime.

    Back when they wrote the law, (none / 0) (#26)
    by FlaDemFem on Tue Apr 01, 2008 at 08:48:52 PM EST
    most felonies were violent crimes, or could have a violent outcome. For instance, treason can be non-violent, but it is still a capital crime. Always has been. But most of the crimes that were deemed felonies in the old days were violent, or serious harm to life and property. Breaking into someone's house and stealing was not considered a felony, but burning the house down was. I think that the definition felony has been expanded into various grades, which it didn't used to be, and that all the grades lose their rights. We should retract the law to only the grade one felonies, ones that do serious harm to life or property. I do think we should make an exception for petty criminals who don't get it and keep doing the same thing over and over. If they can't stay out of jail, why let them vote?