It takes one

Published: Wednesday, January 3, 2007 at 6:01 a.m.
Last Modified: Tuesday, January 2, 2007 at 10:42 p.m.

Florida is one of only a few states in America that doesn't automatically restore voting rights to convicted felons after they have paid their debt to society. That exclusion from a fundamental civil policy makes no sense if the true goal of corrections is rehabilitation and encouraging ex-offenders to rejoin the mainstream of society.

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Tribune Media Services

Some eyebrows are being raised because state Sen. Gary Siplin, D-Orlando, is sponsoring a bill that would automatically restore voting rights for felons a year after the completion of their sentence. Why? Because Siplin is himself a convicted felon. He was found guilty of third-degree theft after he had legislative staff members work on his re-election campaign while they were on the state payroll. He has been sentenced to three years of probation and 300 hours of community service.

Ironically, Siplin can continue to vote in the Senate, but he cannot vote back in his home district. So the argument might be made that senators have set a considerably lower standard of accountability for themselves than they have for the millions of Floridians they represent.

University of Central Florida political scientist Aubrey Jewett told the Tampa Tribune recently that Siplin is "the exact wrong person to push" voting restoration legislation. "A lot of the public is already upset that he continues to serve and has plum committee assignments," he said.

On the other hand Siplin may well be the "exact" right person in the right place at the right time. The Florida Legislature has for years turned a deaf ear to the pleas of those who argue that denying ex-offenders the right to vote is unnecessarily punitive and counterproductive. Frankly, that attitude has always seemed to us to be self-righteous and politically convenient. But now that one of their own is in the position of being denied a basic civil right, perhaps lawmakers will be moved to reconsider.

So by all means, let Sen. Siplin be the poster child for restoration of voting rights, on the theory that it takes one to know one.

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