Ex-felons face uphill battle in order to vote

admin | 6/11/2012, 8 a.m.

Election season is here and while some ex-felons across the nation have been granted the right to vote, many here in Florida find their path to the polls blocked due to recently-enacted laws that prohibit former inmates from voting. In last weeks edition of The Miami Times, we reported that some 7,000 felons have been eliminated from the states voting rolls during the first four months of 2012. But its more than just numbers that should be considered. These statistics reflect real men and women all who have served their time and now want to gain their rightful place in society. One such example is former inmate Lamar Johnson, 42, convicted of cocaine possession nearly seven years ago. I want to be able to vote and make sure my voice is heard, he said. I want to do things the right way and become a productive citizen. Dim future for Floridas ex-felons The Sunshine State is the only state in the U.S where convicted felons must undergo a lengthy clemency or pardoning process in order to have their voting rights restored. In a majority of states, voting rights for ex-felons who have completed their sentence are restored automatically. Last spring, Tallahassee passed a mandate denying the automatic restoration of the right to vote for any offenses. But what are the rules for clemency? Ex-felons must submit an application to the Office of Executive Clemency. They in turn verify the absence of pending charges, determine the level of the offense and then approve the application. The board then divides the offenses between two categories: category 1 deals with crimes that are considered less serious (i.e grand theft, driving under the influence) where the individual is placed on a 5-year waiting list and must remain crime free; category 2 deals with crimes that are considered more serious (i.e murder or child abuse) where the individual is placed on a 7-year waiting list and must be recommended to the Board of Executive Clemency by the Parole Commission. Once an individual is cleared by the executive board, the Restoration of Civil Rights (RCR), will either deny or approve a certificate restoring the applicants rights. Andrew Bush, who was convicted of robbery and false imprisonment in 1973, says he is aware of the restoration process but is unable to apply for clemency because he is currently on parole for probation violations. He now runs a mentoring club for at-risk youth and has made significant changes in his life. But he still must wait for his evaluation in November the first step towards the restoration of his rights. I was trying to be something I had no idea about and had to learn the hard way, he said. It was a learning experience that helped me today. The 57-year-old is currently penning a book about his perspective on life from outside the jail cell. I am very articulate and I was an honor student in school, he said. Had I not gotten into trouble the sky would have been the limit for me. Once I can overcome these many obstacles, there will be no holds barred. Nationwide, between 2009 and 2010, the RCR restored civil rights to 29,957 applicants with less serious charges and 207 applicants with more serious charges. To find out more about rights restoration go to www.restorerights.org. By Latoya Burgess Lburgess@miamitimesonline.com