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Activists Work To Register Felons To Vote

WASHINGTON, (UPI) –  Civil right activists stepped up efforts this week to allow more than 1.5 million voting-eligible felons in Florida — and millions more nationwide — access to elections, urging that laws they see as discriminatory need to be changed.

“Keep in mind that two-thirds are not in a prison cell right now,” said Hilary O. Shelton, senior vice president for advocacy at the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People.

Nearly 6 million American felons have no voting rights, says the Sentencing Project, a non-profit group that works on criminal justice reform issues. Florida leads the nation with the highest rate per capita of disenfranchised felons.

In swing states like Florida and Virginia, another state with a large number of disenfranchised felons, those votes could make the difference in close elections. The deadline to register for the November election is Tuesday in Florida and Oct. 15 in Virginia.

Advocates say they worry the laws are part of larger voter suppression efforts, some designed to keep minorities from casting ballots this fall.

The NAACP launched a national campaign against felon disenfranchisement Tuesday in Tallahassee, Fla. The group is seeking changes in laws that keep felons from voting.

Florida Attorney General Pam Bondi, who sits on the state’s executive clemency board, calls the practice fair to law-abiding citizens and victims of crime.

“It is reasonable to ask felons to apply to have their rights restored and to demonstrate rehabilitation by living crime-free during a waiting period after the completion of their sentences,” said an official in Bondi’s office.

Laws governing the restoration of voting rights vary by state. Most U.S. states restore felons’ voting rights automatically after completion of their prison term, parole or probation. Several states allow prisoners with misdemeanor convictions to cast absentee ballots.

But some states with governors have been rolling back voting rights for felons.

Florida, under Republican Gov. Rick Scott, and Virginia, under Republican Gov. Bob McDonnell, are among 12 states — including Alabama, Arizona, Delaware, Iowa, Kentucky, Mississippi, Nebraska, Nevada, Tennessee and Wyoming — where felon voting rights may be permanently withheld.

“The problem is the Florida Constitution,” said Randy Berg, the executive director of the Florida Justice Institute, a public interest law firm in Miami. He cited a provision added in 1865 that hasn’t been repealed.

“Legislators refuse to change the rules on clemency,” Berg said.

Scott’s administration rescinded a more liberal policy for felons in March 2011. Florida now requires felons to wait 5-7 years before they can apply for restoration of civil rights.

In a statement from Scott’s office, ex-felons must demonstrate “willingness to request to have their rights restored.” In 2011, 13,000 ex-felons applied for civil rights restoration.

Since Scott’s administration amended the law, fewer than 300 ex-felons have voting rights restored. Under the earlier policy introduced in 2007 by Gov. Charlie Crist, who was then a Republican, 155,000 ex-felons had their voting rights restored.

In Iowa, Republican Gov. Terry Branstad rescinded a law in 2011 to automatically restore voter rights, which was instituted in 2005 by former Gov. Tom Vilsack, a Democrat who is now the U.S. secretary of Agriculture.

The danger with executive clemency law is reflected in changes depending on administration.

In Virginia, Shelton said, “If the governor wasn’t so moved, (the) people’s rights could not be restored.”

Thirty-one percent of all voting-age African-American men in Virginia are disenfranchised because of felony records, Shelton said.

Two states — Vermont and Maine — don’t disenfranchise felons. Prisoners registered to vote in Vermont, regardless of where they are incarcerated, may submit absentee ballots.

An official in the Vermont Secretary of State’s Office called voting part of the restorative process. Community educators conduct voter registration drives in prisons to ensure that prisoners can participate in elections.

Neither Vermont nor Maine maintain records on how many prisoners register to vote because many use addresses from prior to incarceration.

The NAACP, in cooperation with the Federal Bureau of Prisons, provides former felons with information upon release on how to regain voting rights.  Additionally, the organization maintains prison units in Florida, Illinois, Kansas, Mississippi and Missouri for providing absentee ballots.

UPI - United Press International, Inc.

Since 1907, United Press International (UPI) has been a leading provider of critical information to media outlets, businesses, governments and researchers worldwide.

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  • http://www.ceousa.org Roger Clegg, Center for Equal Opportunity

    If you aren’t willing to follow the law yourself, then you can’t demand a role in making the law for everyone else, which is what you do when you vote. The right to vote can be restored to felons, but it should be done carefully, on a case-by-case basis after a person has shown that he or she has really turned over a new leaf, not automatically on the day someone walks out of prison. Read more about this issue on our website here [ http://www.ceousa.org/voting/voting-news/felon-vo... ] and our congressional testimony here: [ http://judiciary.house.gov/hearings/pdf/Clegg1003... ].

  • http://www.facebook.com/robert.a.plett Robert A. Plett

    I must be wrong but i always thought that if you are CONVICTED of committing a Felony you were no longer allowed to vote. In case I am wrong I believe if you commit a FELONY then you should lose all rights to ever vote again . Period

    • James Brown

      That comment shows your ignorance on several levels. A) a convicted felon can have his right to vote restored with or without having his conviction set aside. B) laws throughout history have been made by the wealthy and or influential and oftentimes laws are morally and socially wrong. Think about it, slavery was once legal but it was always wrong. Those who helped slaves escape bondage were breaking the law but they were doing the right thing. So please clarify are you supporting tyranny or just confused?

      • http://twitter.com/pgtwitted Pete G (@pgtwitted)

        Maybe we should let Felons have guns too that right is also gone because they are Felons or don’t you get it James Brown

  • FreedomFighter

    Nearly 6 million American felons have no voting rights, says the Sentencing Project

    nor should they

    Laus Deo
    Semper Fi

    • anonymous

      you might want to change your name, it does not fit your writing.if a felon has served his time, he has paid his debt to society.he is not a felon anymore.

  • James Brown

    I guess it is a good first step, though it is nowhere near enough. Laws passed every year make it harder and harder for convicted felons to earn a living wage, find safe and affordable housing and limit their access to social services. These laws are generally supported by Democrats and Republicans in order to limit the liability of corporations and organizations. So even when a disenfranchised voter wins back his rights, what has he won? The right to vote for an out of touch politician who could care less about his personal freedoms.

    and in response to you Roger, I agree that every felon should not be automatically allowed to vote but by the same token every felon should not be automatically barred from renting a house or apartment, or from working in nursing, law or social services yet that is the situation.

  • s c

    Some retards will do ANYTHING to get easy votes. SOME retards resort to relying on dead voters, serial voters and felons. The next time you retards go to Wal Mart or any store that demands that you produce an ID to buy tobacco products, you might ask yourself why you need an ID to buy tobacco products, but you may or may not need an ID to VOTE. Have you bought an airline ticket recently? WHAT is so hard about producing an effing ID? Does someone have to lead you by the hand to go and get one?
    SOME of you professional retards even dare to wait for 4 years before you think this is important. What kind of genetically inferior, self-made RETARD waits for 4 years until it becomes ‘important enough’ to get an ID?
    Utopians of Amerika, stick it where the sun don’t shine, you scumbags. You might consider volunteering for a one-way trip to Mars, you semi-human trash.

  • http://yahoo D M Simpson

    I don’t know WHY everyone is so Worried about VOTER FRAUD, what we need to Really Worry about is the COERSIVE TACTICS used to COUNT THE VOTES, when we have THUGS INTIMIDATING people at the POLLS, on WHO’s Allowed to VOTE, what are these THUGS doing after the POLLS Close. Who are they INTIMIDATING then, Maybe a PRECINCT COMMITTEE ( G O P ) PERSON. You will NEVER know unless we demand to have POLICE at Every Polling Place.

    • http://twitter.com/pgtwitted Pete G (@pgtwitted)

      We need police at every polling place !!!

  • http://twitter.com/pgtwitted Pete G (@pgtwitted)

    My point is if you don’t want to lose your freedom & your rights than don’t commit Felonies against citizens simple as that. The right to vote was taken away for a reason just like their right to poses guns was taken away. If you give back one right were does it end. Why not make Femonies no longer a crime we wouldn’t need so many prisons would save tax dollars ?

    • James Brown

      “don’t commit Felonies against citizens” lets be clear about this. Anyone who commits a violent felony should lose their right to legally own a handgun and they do. I don’t know of any state that allows the reinstatement of the right to possess a firearm after such a conviction. That being said, the vast majority of convicted felons are non violent and non dangerous whose crimes are only felonies because of “tough on crime” politics.

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