There's help for felons


Published: Thursday, June 1, 2006 at 6:01 a.m.
Last Modified: Wednesday, May 31, 2006 at 11:14 a.m.

More than 5 million Americans cannot vote because of a past felony conviction. Florida is one of only three states that permanently takes away the right to vote from ex-felons, unless the governor and the Board of Clemency restores that person's civil rights.

This disenfranchisement is a result of laws that were passed in the 1860s to help keep recently freed slaves from voting. It is shameful that this disenfranchisement continues today, especially because it has the same effect it did when the law was originally passed.

In 2006, one in three black men in Florida cannot vote because felon disenfranchisement is codified in Florida's Constitution.

Voting is a fundamental part of citizenship and of active civil participation in our country, yet in Florida the right to vote is denied to people who have been convicted of felony offenses even after they have served all of their time and paid restitution to the state and to the victims.

To help people who have lost the right to vote apply for a Restoration of Civil Rights (RCR), the Martin Luther King Commission began a Restoration of Voting Rights project in Gainesville in January 2005. This spring, the Florida Bar Foundation's Public Interest Law Fellows teamed up with the commission to help continue this project.

The Restoration of Rights project trains law students to help Alachua County residents who would like to have their voting rights restored work through the RCR application and develop a portfolio to submit with their application.

While there is no guarantee that a personís rights will be restored, submitting an application with supporting documentation is often recognized as a positive step in rehabilitation and shows the board that ex-felons are active members of their community who deserve the right to vote.

If you are a Florida resident and any of the following apply to you, you have probably lost your right to vote:

  • You have a felony conviction in Florida and have not had your civil rights restored by the governor and the Board of Executive Clemency.

  • You were convicted of a felony in another state while you were a Florida resident.

  • You were convicted of a felony in another state and did not have your rights restored in that state before moving to Florida. (Some states restore rights automatically upon release from supervision. A few states, like Florida, do not without applying.)

    If one of these situations applies to you and you would like to apply to have your rights restored, the Restoration of Rights Project may be able to help. One-on-one appointments can be arranged with a trained volunteer to help you work through the restoration of civil rights process.

    If you are interested in setting up an appointment, call the MLK Commission at (352) 376-2442 and leave a message with your full name and telephone number.

    Please spread the word about this project to anyone you know who would like to have their civil rights restored.

    Steckley Lee is a Florida Bar Foundation Public Interest Law Fellow.

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