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Felons Voting in Florida

By: Troy Kinsey Email
By: Troy Kinsey Email

TALLAHASSEE 9/26/2012 -- It's a journey from the prison cell to the voting booth Theo Johnson had no idea would take this long.

After doing three-and-a-half years for a drug offense he was released over a decade ago, and in 2009 he applied to re-gain the right to vote.

But, with a critical election only 40 days away, Theo says the state continues to stall.

"Everyone in my family's voting and I'm the only one not voting, so I feel disappointed, 'cause I know my vote counts for something," said Johnson.

It's a vote he should have been given with no delay and no hearing, thanks to an automatic restoration policy championed by former Governor Charlie Crist.

A policy that's been overturned at the urging of Governor Scott and Attorney General Pam Bondi.

As a result, there are now 90-thousand ex-felons - including Theo - waiting for a chance to plead with Bondi and Scott to restore their rights.

Last year, only 78 of them - or .0008 percent - got their rights back.
The political implications could be tremendous.

Statewide, one in four African-Americans aren't allowed to vote, and it may be no coincidence that, as a group, they vote overwhelmingly democratic.

Under Governor Crist, more than 150-thousand ex-felons had their rights restored, which could have played a critical role in handing Florida to President Obama in 2008.

Political organizer Jamal Rose says he has little doubt the new rule is all about a desire by republicans to win in 2012.

"That's our biggest problem - that there are too many eligible voters and people who should have their rights restored, and they're being infringed upon by this state's legislature and the laws that this state has passed," said Rose.

It's a belief Theo says has only strengthened his drive to finally cast a ballot.

"It's keeping us down, 'cause there's a lot of us locked up, been locked up, and still want to vote," said Johnson.

In the end, for whom and what they'll vote for is important, but not nearly as much as overcoming a bureaucratic battle they never thought they'd have to fight.

Many ex-felons who re-gained the right to vote under the Crist reforms now have to re-apply under the new policy.

That's because if they failed to register to vote, they lost their right again.


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