A Palm Beach County Democratic voter told Naked Politics about a telephone push poll or survey the voter received in recent days about Charlie Crist's campaign for governor. This isn’t an exact quote, but here’s the gist of it:
Would you be more or less likely to vote for Charlie Crist if you knew he worked to get rapists and murderers the right to vote?
(We don’t have any details about who was behind the question about Crist and whether it was a push poll or a message-testing survey as a precursor to an ad.)
Crist’s initiative to restore ex-convicts’ voting rights is something that his campaign for governor will boast about and opponents may attack.
Murders and sex offenders were not eligible for faster review under the system approved by Crist and the Cabinet in 2007, the Tampa Bay Times wrote at the time.
Crist convinced a reluctant Cabinet to streamline the process to allow tens of thousands of felons to regain their right to vote, sit on a jury and obtain some state licenses. (Crist was a Republican at the time -- now he is a Democrat.)
Non-violent ex-cons could get their rights restored without hearings if they completed their sentences. Violent criminals and sex offenders still had to wait years before they could seek restoration of their rights.
“The largest number of ex-felons affected by the policy during the Crist administration were nonviolent offenders,” Mark Schlakman, an attorney at FSU’s Center for the Advancement of Human Rights who worked for Gov. Lawton Chiles, told Naked Politics. “Many advocates believed there should have been no distinction (between violent and nonviolent offenders). Once one completes the sentence -- a legislatively mandated sentence -- he or she should be able to re-enter society.”
Crist wrote an op-ed in the Miami Herald in April 2007 explaining his rationale:
“Unfortunately in five states -- Alabama, Georgia, Mississippi, Kentucky and Florida -- we do not restore civil rights to those who have broken the law once they have paid their debt in full..... Some who favor the current system argue that restoring civil rights is somehow ''weak on crime,'' as if restoring the right to vote, to serve on a jury or to work lessens the punishment or encourages a person to commit new crimes. In fact, the opposite should be true. Giving a person a meaningful way to re-enter society, make a living and participate in our democracy will encourage good behavior. Moreover, there is no historical record in states that have restored civil rights to argue that restoration has increased crime.”
Those who supported restoration of rights -- including the ACLU -- criticized Crist for not doing more to make the process easier. Ultimately the changes led to more than 150,000 restorations though a backlogged of 100,000 remained, the Tampa Bay Times reported a couple months after Crist left office.
In February 2011, newly elected Republican Attorney General Pam Bondi argued that the process was too easy for felons. One month later, Bondi and Republican Gov. Rick Scott and the rest of the Cabinet scrapped the process and set a minimum of a five-year waiting period.
Later that year, the Parole Commission released a report that showed only 11 percent of those who had their rights restored in 2009 and 2010 returned to prison.
During the Scott administration, the number of ex-felons who had their rights restored has nose dived: Between 2011 and September 2013 there were 844 ex-felons had their right restored.