U.S. Rep. Castor calls on state lawmakers to restore voting rights to ex-felons
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02/17/14 Janelle Irwin
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Tags: kathy castor, Voting rights, restoration of rights, NAACP, ACLU, Rick Scott, Pam Bondi

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U.S. Rep Kathy Castor (D-FL) and ACLU of Florida president Mike Pheneger greet each other before a press conference calling on restoring rights to ex-felons.


photo by Janelle Irwin

Tampa area member of Congress Kathy Castor is calling on Florida lawmakers to make some drastic changes to the way ex-felons have their civil rights restored. During a press conference in downtown Tampa today Castor said that includes immediately giving them back the right to vote instead of making them wait 5-7 years.

“In most states across the country, once you have paid your debt to society, you’ve served your probation, you’ve paid your fines, your civil rights are automatically restored. Well, here in Florida for decades and decades and decades we have had a policy that, in operation, simply bars people from getting their civil rights back.”

Under current law, convicted felons returning to society have to wait at least 5 years before applying to have their civil rights restored. Some who have committed more severe crimes have to wait 7 years. But even after the wait period, it can be difficult to complete the process because the individual must go before a clemency board.

“There was a slight change in 2007 under former governor Charlie Crist where he re-instituted the automatic restoration of civil rights someone had paid their debt to society, but unfortunately it was re-instituted under the current governor and cabinet.”

According to PolitiFact, nearly 90,000 certificates were sent to ex-felons restoring their right to vote, though many were returned undeliverable. Since the 2011 change under the Scott administration, only 175 individuals have had their rights restored. Castor says that is not goes against citizens’ basic civil rights, it doesn’t make sense for long-term crime statistics.

“A 2011 parole commission study demonstrated that people who have their civil rights restored after they paid their debt to society become more productive and are less likely to return to committing a crime.”

The issue has been painted by some as partisan with critics of the Republican cabinet’s restoration of rights process claiming it’s an attempt to keep likely Democratic voters from the polls. The ACLU of Florida is joining forces with the NAACP in calling for immediate restoration of rights. Michael Pheneger is the state ACLU president and a registered Republican. He says the outdated restoration of rights process in Florida is another transparent example of conservative groups trying to keep certain people from the polls.

“Lately we found out that, for example, you can’t have an early voting site at the student union of the University of Florida campus even though civic centers are supposed to be allowed.”

U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder is also calling on states like Florida to lift laws prohibiting ex-felons from voting. During a speech at Georgetown last week, he said the policies are reminiscent of racist post civil war laws.

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