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Crist orders changes to felons rights system

Gov. Charlie Crist on Wednesday ordered his Office of Executive Clemency to close some of the gaps that have prevented felons who have served their time from restoring their civil rights.

The governor's actions requires that a voter registration application be included in every restoration of Civil Rights Certificate mailed form the Parole Commission. Changes to the web site will allow individuals to look up and print a copy of their restoration certificate and other information will be available for felons to complete the rights restoration process.

Crist's order appears to be responsive to a series of recent news stories, including a recent one in the Orlando Sentinel. In a Monday story, the Orlando Sentinel found that only 9,000 of the 112,000 newly eligible voters had registered by the end of the July. Another 7,300 might have registered but they couldn't verify it, and at least 96,000 eligible felons still hadn't registered.

The response is welcome but still too little, too late for the ACLU, which urged Crist to take a more aggressive approach to opening the door for felons more than a year ago when he pushed through the changes to allow easiesr restoration of rights.

“This was a lost opportunity,'' said Muslima Lewis, senior attorney for the ACLU's Racial Justice Voting Rights Projects. "Had he issued today’s Executive Order when we asked him to do so more than eight months ago, thousands more Floridians would have benefited. Waiting until August 27th, when there are just over five weeks to register to vote for the November general election greatly diminishes the impact of the Governor’s action.''

She noted that had Crist issued the order in December, when they first requested it, the Parole Commission would have have the benefit of the 60 employees loaned to them from the Department of Corrections to process Restoration of Civil Rights cases. Now, the Parole Commission staff has been reduced because of budget cuts and the opportunity to help felons is diminished.