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Advocates calls for federal action to restore ex-felons' voting rights

From the News Service of Florida:

Hundreds of thousands of Florida ex-felons who have completed their sentences still can't vote, a prohibition that is hindering their re-entry into society, a group of voting rights advocates said Tuesday as they urged Congress to step in.

Changes made last year in Florida have stopped restoration efforts for ex-felons who have served their prison sentences or completed probation, a shift in policy that came four years after former Gov. Charlie Crist and the Cabinet voted to join most other states and automatically restore the rights of felons who had paid their debt to society.

Hampered in efforts to change state law, Mark Schlakman, a Democratic candidate for Congress and Walter McNeil, former Department of Corrections secretary, on Tuesday urged Florida's congressional delegation to push for federal law changes to require automatic restoration of civil rights for federal elections.

The practical result, said Leon County Supervisor of Elections Ion Sancho, would be that state election officials would follow suit because a dual registration system for state and federal elections would not work.

Last year, state lawmakers approved a measure that allows ex-felons to get vocational licenses and government work permits, even as they have to wait for other rights and privileges, such as voting. The bill, SB 146, was pushed by members of both parties, including Florida Attorney General Pam Bondi.

Schlakman said a similar bipartisan effort should be mounted on the voting rights issue. He pointed to the Democracy Restoration Act, a federal, Democrat-backed initiative, as a template for how restoration could work.

"We have hundreds of thousands of people living out in society, having completed their sentences, who are unable to vote and cannot obtain the right to vote," Schlakman said.

The group pointed to a 2011 study by the Florida Parole Commission that indicated the recidivism rate for felons who had their rights restored in 2009 and 2010 was about 11 percent. That compared with an overall three-year recidivism rate of more than 33 percent between 2001 and 2008.

Between 4,000 and 5,000 Florida felons are released from prison or complete their probation every month.

The politically charged topic has been bandied about for years. In 2007, Crist and the Cabinet by a 3-1 vote ended a 140-year-old practice and agreed to immediately restore the rights of nonviolent offenders who had completed their sentences. The action also allowed most of those who committed violent offenses to immediately apply for board approval to regain their rights instead of having to wait five years.

In March 2011, Gov. Rick Scott and an all-Republican Cabinet overturned the previous vote. In place of automatic restoration, ex-felons would have to wait at least five years from time of their release before seeking the ability to vote.

Further, the request must be approved by the Executive Clemency Board, which is made up of the governor and Cabinet.

African-Americans have complained the move reduces voting in the black community and lessens the community's voice – because so many ex-felons are African-American.

"Felons seeking restoration of civil rights demonstrate they desire and deserve clemency only after they show they're willing to abide by the law," Scott said before the vote.  

During the latest clemency meeting in late June, the panel restored the rights of 20 of 80 applicants. Last year the board restored rights to 78 individuals.

Florida now has one of the most restrictive processes for ex-felons to restore their right to vote. It is one of only a handful of states, most in the deep South, that do not allow felons to automatically regain their civil rights when they are released from prison.

"By saying you have to wait five years, what you're saying is that person is going to have to crawl and scratch their way back into society," McNeil said. "The research tells us … the more years you push that out, the less likely they are to succeed."


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Terry Earp

Justice without Serving a Function is Oppression
Punishment without serving a purpose is persecution

We believe that justice, mercy and grace must work hand in hand. Without the combination of all three you cannot have liberty which is at the very heart of every human ambition, to live free. When liberty is taken away it strips that person of his or her self-esteem. This act takes away the self-worth and the dignity of belonging and being a part of a community. It takes their identity that is universally valued by all of us. This is what in part binds us all together as a united nation. Our freedom should never be taken lightly. Without the freedom to make a mistake it is not really freedom. Punishment should serve a purpose but not just for the purpose of punishment alone. Somewhere along the line there must be a process for restoration. Due process has a defined meaning. Due process balances the law of the land and protects individuals from it. When a government body prolongs punishment after a sentence and due process has been performed is in violation and offends against the rule of law. An individual's due process is protected under our Fifth and Fourteenth Amendments in the United States Constitution. States have usurped the authority of our Federal Government in depriving American citizens of their civil rights after a debt to society has been paid in full. The definition of justice is to be just, righteous and equitable. Mercy is defined as showing compassion or forbearance toward an offender. Grace is defined as unmerited assistance given for the regeneration of that individual. Where would we all be without grace? The act of forgiveness allows that individual a fresh new beginning. A person who cannot offer or extend forgiveness burns the bridge that he or she to must someday cross. When man places another into bondage for an extended or non specified length of time after due process has been served severs the cord that binds us all together. The human spirit was not created to live in bondage. Is this an issue in our country? When civil rights are violated by withholding them long after due process of the law has been delivered should be a grave concern for all Americans. Our civil rights should never be used as a bargaining chip. Civil rights should never have to be earned as some in public office have touted. After a debt has been paid and settled the rights of that individual should be returned to them. This is what we do in a free and democratic society. Look at the numbers of our disenfranchised American citizens. These numbers continue to be on the rise. This is 5.5 million men and women in our country that currently have no voice. Florida makes up one fifth of this growing number which makes Florida the state with the most punitive disenfranchisement policies in the country. Who will speak for for these men and women? You could be next or someone close to you. Once these rights are taken from you there are no guarantees that they will ever be restored to you under current political practices in Florida. Now is the time to speak while you still have a voice. Together we are strong, undivided and united we will be heard.

eric Sisser

Another chicken Judge...at least Cheif Judge Roberts gave a verdict


Justice is its own purpose; and punishment is the function that serves that purpose.

Prisons are a waste of money, when exile, corporal punishments, and withdrawing the protection of the laws will do as well or better in their place.

And those who violate others by breaking the laws have no business voting for people who make the laws to protect law-abiding citizens in a civilized society.

But on the bright side for criminals ... if you do your crimes in a smart, rather than stupid way, you can not only vote, but get elected to rule over others: that is the essence of criminality anyway.

Roger Clegg

If you aren’t willing to follow the law yourself, then you can’t demand a role in making the law for everyone else, which is what you do when you vote. The right to vote can be restored to felons, but it should be done carefully, on a case-by-case basis after a person has shown that he or she has really turned over a new leaf, not automatically on the day someone walks out of prison. Read more about this issue on our website here [ http://www.ceousa.org/voting/voting-news/felon-voting/538-answering-the-challenges-to-felon-disenfranchisement ] and our congressional testimony here: [ http://judiciary.house.gov/hearings/pdf/Clegg100316.pdf ]

Terry Earp

According to Dictionary.com the definition of a democracy is, “A government by the people; a form of government in which the supreme power is vested in the people and exercised directly by them or by their elected agents under a free electoral system.” The Wikipedia’s free encyclopedia goes on to say, “Democracy is an egalitarian form of government in which all the citizens of a nation together determine public policy, the laws and the actions of their state, requiring that all citizens (meeting certain qualifications) have an equal opportunity to express their opinion.”

To be labeled a democracy a country needs to fulfill these basic criteria and must be written down in it’s constitution and protected in every individuals life by its politicians and authorities.

1. Guarantee of basic Human Rights to every individual person.
2. Separation of Powers between institutions of the state being Executive, Legislative,
and Judicative Powers.
3. Freedom of opinion, speech, press and mass media.
4. Religious liberty
5. General and equal right to vote, one person, one vote.
6. Good Governance, focus on public interest and absence of corruption.

How does the United States grade on the world scale compared with other democracies? The scale of disenfranchisement laws in United States is unparalleled with Florida being one of the most punitive states. Our country is one in eleven countries that do not guarantee the restoration of civil rights after due process of the law has been served in its constitution. We also fail to give the equal right to vote for every tax paying citizen. In many cases that individual has been stripped of his or her civil rights along with the right to vote for life. The United States has a staggering 5.5 million men and women who pay their taxes but do not have the right to vote. This is roughly the size of Boston, Detroit or Dallas, an entire city of people that no longer have a voice in our government. Over 650,000 of these are veterans who served in our armed forces to help preserve these rights and liberties. African Americans make up approximately 13 % of our disenfranchised Americans. According Wikipedia the United States ranks 19th in the world standings of the most democratic nations in the world. Some countries that may surprise you that rank higher as a democracy are Germany and the Czech Republic. Germany ranks 14th and after it evolved out of Fascism in the last century is considered one of the most democratic nations in Europe. The Czech Republic evolved after the failure of Communism and is ranked 16th in the world. It has the highest human development in Central and Eastern Europe according to Wikipedia’s free encyclopedia. The United Kingdom even ranks higher than our United States on this scale. A little more than two hundred years ago we fought for our independence from them. Isn’t it amazing at what kind of changes can come about in just a couple of hundred years.

Amendment VIII to the United States Constitution, which is part of the United States Bill of Rights, disallows the federal government from imposing excessive bail, excessive fines or cruel and unusual punishments. The U. S. Supreme Court has ruled that this amendment’s Cruel and Unusual Punishment Clause applies to the states. This term has become a subject for personal interpretations. A life long disenfranchisement of your civil rights would be considered excessive by most democratic nations of the world. Our country still continues to lecture other countries on their human right violations while disenfranchising millions of its own citizens.

In 2007 Florida moved to restore the right to vote for convicted felons who had completed their sentences which would fall in line with forty seven of our other states. In March of 2011, however Republican Rick Scott and Attorney General Pam Bondi reversed the 2007 civil rights reforms, making Florida the most punitive state in terms of disenfranchisement of its citizens after due process has been served in the country. The right to vote lands at the very heart of our American democracy. As we celebrate our independence let us not forget that all through our history our country has struggled to broaden the franchise of its citizens that were previously barred from voting because of race, class or gender. Because of these struggles our democracy has become stronger and more diverse. We still have a wall before us that is a blanket barrier to 5.5 million American men and women who pay their taxes but are prohibited by law from voting because of a previous felony conviction. These people are not allowed to move on with their lives because these punitive laws have become more important than helping to reestablish these men and women back into society. These restrictive laws have become more important than civil rights and civil liberties. Either Due Process has a place in our constitution or it does not. We cannot have it both ways. We have created a subclass of people, for lack of a better term, who are losing hope of ever rejoining society as a fully recognized citizen. This continues to drain our American economy. How do you feel about this? After a debt to society has been paid by completing a sentence passed down by a judge and often times a jury do you believe that this person should be allowed to rejoin society as a full citizen? Please, before you answer that study what a true democracy represents. This number of our disenfranchised is growing every year at an alarming rate. Florida is home to one fifth of them. Please contact us and share your opinion.

Terry Earp

Mr. Clegg, I think you need a lesson in democracy or maybe better than that a lesson in grace. Democracy is held very sacred not only in our country but around the world. You can see how on an international scale how countries that have never known democracy are sacrificing their lives to have it. I know very little about you so I am not passing judgment but I do know that men and women who have actually had to defend the freedoms and the civil rights we have, hold these liberties most dear because we know that they did not come free. I answered my county’s call back during Vietnam. Wrong or right I volunteered to help defend these freedoms. Did you know that there are over 650,000 veteran men and women who served in the armed forces to defend the freedoms that you have but who are now being denied these very rights in the name of justice? Many of them will never be offered these rights back. We rank 19th in the world as a democracy. Germany and the Czech Republic rank higher than the U. S. The United Kingdom even ranks higher than we do and we fought against them less than 250 years ago for our own independence. If you take time to look into this further you will find the United States leads the rest of the world in the number of its own citizens that are incarcerated. China has four times our population and has less than half as many. Do you think we have the right to lecture them on human rights violations? In Amendment VIII it states, “Excessive bail shall not be required, nor excessive fines imposed, nor cruel and unusual punishments inflicted.” Would you consider a lifelong disenfranchisement of your civil rights after due process of the law has been served cruel and unusual? If not I am wasting my time talking with someone that has no compassion for his fellow man because most of the world considers this cruel and unusual. I have a homework assignment for you. These changes in our democracy have taken an alarming turn in just the past forty years. Research the number of democracies in the world that have this written in their constitution. Men and women after serving time for breaking its county’s laws will have their full citizen rights restored to them. We do not have this in our constitution. What is freedom without the freedom to make a mistake? This may not make any sense to you until it strikes closer to home with a friend or maybe a family member. You see the things that sets us apart from other species is that a human being has the capacity to show compassion. Humans have the capacity to change but without a hand up that may never happen. At the heart of every humans aspiration is the desire to live free and many have died in pursuit of this. One last thing I would like to leave you. Have you ever thought about what your legacy will be after you are gone? Do you see yourself as a great defender of our country’s laws, a defender of right from wrong? Could you see yourself as a man who had the compassion to put his hand out to another when you saw a fellow man or woman fall? I love our country and I hope to live long enough to see our values come full circle in which our founders had envisioned. We are a united nation and to stay that way we must be willing to help our neighbor back up when he or she has fallen just as we did after our Civil War. One of our greatest presidents to serve our country knew the value of extending mercy. Abraham Lincoln once said, “I have always found that mercy bares richer fruit than strict justice”. These words still hold true today. This was his legacy.


The Civil Rights of ex-felons must be earned.

Governor Scott and Pam Bondi are not saying that ex-felons should not have a second chance but should only have longer waiting periods and that they need to earn their civil rights back. What is the criteria for earning these rights back? It must be very high and out of reach for them because most are not winning their rights back. Do you know how many tax paying citizens who have completed due process and are still waiting to have their cases reviewed? There are over a million in Florida. Do you know how many ex-felons had their rights restored by the Florida’s Executive Board of Clemency last year? There were only 78. This is not even scratching the surface in overcoming this problem. There is approximately a two year backlog on reviewing these cases and they are falling further and further behind each year. I do not think their true agenda is to give these men and women a second chance in rejoining society as a full citizen. One strike and you are out it appears. The other 47 states in this country restore civil rights to their citizens after due process has been completed. Gov. Scott and Pam Bondi seem to think different.
Between 35,000 to 38,000 inmates are admitted to Florida prisons each year by the most current estimates and nearly the same number are release each year. With only 78 former felons having their civil rights restored this past year, you do the math. At this rate we will have an exponential growing number of these men and women living, working, and paying their taxes as second class citizens. We have a new class of people emerging in our nation that are a subclass, in all intense and purposes, in comparison with our upper, middle and poor classes. Our current system of justice in Florida has created this. Our subclass, which is now over a million, cannot vote, hold higher paying jobs of their choice, hold many occupational licenses or live in many common areas of their choosing. These choices have been taken away and withheld from them long after due process has been served. Their families suffer right along side of them. According to our politicians this is not discrimination. If you did not know better you would think that I was talking about a different country. Can these things really be happening in America? This is one of the reasons we lead the world in the number of its citizens that are incarcerated. China with four times our population does not even come close to the U.S. These numbers are increasing at an alarming rate and until people start to stand up and take notice and do something about it this will continue to escalate. A historian and moralist Lord Acton once said that “Absolute Power corrupts absolutely”. Earl Chatham, Prime Minister England from 1766 to 1786 went on to say, “Unlimited power is apt to corrupt the minds of those who possess it”. You may ask yourself, how can someone be punished beyond that which a judge and often times a jury has passed down in a sentence that has a beginning and an end? The answer is, because they can. If we are suppose to have separation of powers among our branches of government in this country of our Executive, Legislative and our Judicial branches then why is Governor Scott crossing over into the judicial arena and adding on to due process after it has been handed down by our judicial branch, served and completed by an individual? In an Autocracy there are no such divisions. Is this the direction our country is headed? Can’t anyone else see this?
Most people know that we are part of the United Nations. What many may not know is that we signed a Universal Declaration of Human Rights back in 1948 along with 48 other nations. There is too much to share in its entirety so I just want to share some of what I think are some note worthy highlights. Google the rest if you want to see this in its entirety.

Article 1: All human beings are born free and equal in dignity and rights. They are endowed with reason and conscience and should act towards one another in a spirit of brotherhood.

Article 3: Everyone has the right to life, liberty and security of person. All are equal before the law and are entitled without any discrimination to equal protection of the law. All are entitled to equal protection against any discrimination in violation of this Declaration and against any incitement to such discrimination.

Article 11: Nor shall a heavier penalty be imposed than the one that was applicable at the time the penal offence was committed.

Article 21: (1) Everyone has the right to take part in the government of his country, directly or through freely chosen representatives. (2) Everyone has the right of equal access to public service in this country. (3) The will of the people shall be the basis of the authority of government; this shall be expressed in periodic and genuine elections which shall be by universal and equal suffrage and shall be held by secrete vote or by equivalent free voting procedures.

Article 23: (1) Everyone has the right to work, to free choice of employment, to just and favorable conditions of work and to protection against unemployment. (2) Everyone, without any discrimination, has the right to equal pay for equal work. (3) Everyone who works has the right to just and favorable remuneration ensuring for himself and his family an existence worthy of human dignity.

Is the U.S. holding up its part in insuring that these universal declarations of human rights are being ensured here at home for their very own citizens? You be the judge.

Bernardo Valdes

I recently sent a fax to the Miami Herald about my Civil Rights and how they have been violated. In 2002 I was convicted of a no violent felony. I did not know that my rights were taken away, I was not told. I continued to vote, worked as a pollworker, worked as supervisor of elections, served on jury. In 2010 I received a letter saying that I needed to apply for restoration of rights. I immediately sent the application. I have not have any more convictions. What makes me so upset is that my rights should have been restored when Gov Christ signed automatic restoration of civil rights in 2007, I thought that they would restore my rights retroactive to 2007 law. I was wrong. It is now 2012, ten years and my rights have not been restored. I call every 3 months write letters, it is alway the same answer, we waiting to review and we can take as long as we want. It makes me so mad that goverment employees treat me that way. I like other people are in the same pridicament. Democracy is being disturbed by not allowing mine and other ex felons the right to vote. Govenor Rick Scott is the biggest crook, everyone knows that. He is the one making decisions about my future and rights. This is a really big problem and nothing is being done. I wrote to Katherine Rundel and Ileana Ross Lethin. i even wrote to Barac Obama. No one has answered. Miami Herald should do a front page story about this situation, so that the public can be aware of this situation.


Why haven't these violations of people's rights been challenged in the Supreme court? These men and women paid their debt to society. They served their jail/prison time. that is when punishment is supposed to end. They should be given back ALL their constitutionally protected rights. This includes the right to own a gun.

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