Paperwork the Answer for Former Felons?

The debate over former felons’ right to vote just got more complicated in Florida. A judge has ordered the Department of Corrections to help inmates fill out applications to get their rights back as they’re released from prison, but officials say that will make a cumbersome system even worse, and many believe the state should just scrap the whole process.

The Department of Corrections says a judge’s order requiring prison officials to help inmates fill out applications to get their rights back could make a system mired in red tape even worse.

The agency already submits applications via computer.

Spokesman Sterling Ivey says since they release 26,000 inmates a year, the ruling will just bury the office of clemency in more paperwork.

“If we electronically are submitting 26,000 names and then they’re getting 26,000 hard copies that they also must review, we could go back to having backlog issues,” says Ivey.

But critics say the real problem is an outdated system. It dates back to 1868 when forcing ex-felons to apply to get their rights back was just a way to keep former slaves from voting.

State Sen. Les Miller says it’s high time Florida came into the 21st century and restore rights automatically.

“This is something that is antiquated. It should be eliminated. We’re only one of seven southern states that still have this cumbersome process of trying to get someone’s rights restored and sometimes it never even happens,” Miller says.

You might think with all the controversy and red tape for the state agencies, Florida would want to join the 43 other states that automatically restore voting rights once the inmates have served their time, but Jeb Bush says no. The governor and Cabinet meet four times a year to review applications one by one.

“I’m comfortable with this process. I think it is a fair process. It is emotionally draining,” says Gov. Bush.

Former inmates trying to turn their lives around would probably argue it’s much tougher on them and anything that makes it harder to vote in Florida will only draw more criticism as we get closer to the election.

State Sen. Les Miller says lawmakers have tried for at least 10 years to pass a bill that would automatically restore former felons’ rights, but the bill never went anywhere. He expects a tougher push for the bill when the Legislature meets this spring