13,000 Former Felons May Not Know They Can Vote

By: Whitney Ray Email
By: Whitney Ray Email

Tallahassee, Florida- August 3, 2012

They are a voting block neither major party is publicly courting, but tonight we are learning there are enough former felons who’ve had their voting rights restored to significantly impact the outcome of the presidential election, but they may not know they are eligible to vote.

The rush is on to register voters who may not even know they’re eligible to cast a ballot. Thirteen thousand former felons had their voting rights restored, but didn’t get the message.

“They were gathering dust in a box,” said Howard Simon, the Executive Director of the ACLU of Florida.

The ACLU discovered thousands of Restoration of Civil Rights Certificates at Florida’s Parole Commission. The state mailed them, but the recipients had already moved.

“We are going to do what we can to notify as many people as possible,” said Simon.

Human rights experts here at FSU’s law school say the bigger issue is automatic restoration of civil rights. They say if felons had their rights restored at the completion of their sentence, taxpayers would save millions of dollars.

In 2009, Florida made civil rights restoration easier. Tens of thousands had their voting rights restored. The Parole Commission couldn’t keep up. But in 2011, Governor Rick Scott and the state cabinet slowed the restoration process. Since then only 78 people have had their rights restored.

Human Rights Advocate Mark Schlakman says the state could reduce the prison population by letting ex-felons cast ballots. He sites a parole commission report.

“There is a statistically significant positive correlation between restoring ones right to vote and a sharp drop in recidivism,” said Schlakman.

Schlakman isn’t aware of any studies tracking how former felons vote, but did point out that minorities make up a large portion of the prison population, and minorities traditionally vote Democrat.

We asked the state Republican Party and the state Democrats if either will court the votes of 13-thousand former felons. Neither party would comment. Keep in mind the 2000 presidential election was decided by less than 600 votes.

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