Effort under way to restore felons’ voting rights underway, advocates working on ballot initiative

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A grass-roots effort is under way to restore automatically convicted felons’ right to vote once their sentence is served.  The ACLU, NAACP and The League of Women Voters are supporting a petition gathering effort to place a  proposed constitutional amendment on the 2016 ballot.

The proposed ballot initiative would state:  “. . . voting rights shall be restored upon completion of all terms of sentence including parole or probation.”

When Gov. Rick Scott and the current Florida Cabinet was first elected four years ago they changed rights restoration procedures at their first Cabinet meeting.

The newly-elected Attorney General Pam Bondi led the effort to scrap a Crist-era initiative which didn’t require a petition to the Clemency Board; saying it was a public safety issue.

“I believe someone should have to ask to have their rights restored,” Bondi said at the time. “I believe as a 20-year prosecutor that any felony is a serious crime and that as law abiding citizens we respect that.”

At Bondi’s urging, the Clemency Board voted unanimously to repeal automatic restoration of rights. Ex-felons are now required  to Tallahassee and appear at a public hearing before the governor and cabinet acting as the Clemency Board. The Board has a backlog of some 20,000 petitions.

The proposal Bondi lobbied Scott and the Cabinet to approved also included a review of the ex-felons released between 2007 and 2011 whose rights were automatically restored

The study, no longer available on line, reviewed more than 30,000 cases and found 11-percent had offended again compared to a 33-percent re-offending rate for those released between 2001 and 2008.

You can read more about that report here and also here.  

A Bondi spokesman said she had not reviewed the proposed ballot initiative for 2016 and had no further comment.

The grass roots efforts to allow ex-felons to vote without petitioning the governor would require the collection of 683,000 voter signatures by Feb. 2016.