Four times each year, Florida Gov. Jeb Bush reviews requests by state felons to restore their civil rights. The issue of felon disenfranchisement is getting new attention nearly four years after it was an issue in the 2000 presidential election, reports the New York Times. The Times calls a “lingering puzzle” from 2000 the story of legal voters removed from Florida’s rolls before the vote when a company working for the state mistakenly identified them as felons. Some counties mistakenly allowed actual felons to vote or turned away legitimate voters as suspected felons. A lawsuit filed sought to prevent similar errors; another case contended that the ban on felons voting discriminated against blacks and should be overturned. President Bush might have lost in 2000 if disenfranchised felons had been allowed to vote. A University of Minnesota sociologist counted more than 600,000 in Florida, not including those still in prison, on parole or on probation.
Florida is the largest of the seven states that permanently take away voting rights of felons. While other states have scaled back similar bans, Governor Bush and the Legislature call their law a necessary consequence for criminals; its supporters note that many are granted clemency. Only Maine and Vermont allow felons to vote while they are in prison. Besides Florida, only Alabama, Iowa, Kentucky, Mississippi, Nebraska, and Virginia remove felons’ voting rights and do not automatically restore them.
When the ban drew widespread attention after 2000, the backlog of felons whose applications for rights restoration are under review – 35,585 as of March 15 – is more than five times what it was in July 2001. The state automatically restores the rights of some felons after reviewing their records. Others, including convicted drug traffickers, sex offenders, violent offenders and those guilty of public corruption, must go through an investigation and wait for a hearing, which can take years.