Florida Gov. Charlie Crist went against his Republican party a year ago and made it easier for felons to regain their voting rights. The process has been slow, stirring controversy in a state expected to be closely fought in this fall’s elections, says the Wall Street Journal. A clemency board has restored voting rights to nearly 75,000 residents, but nearly 96,000 requests are pending. Activists say there might be 400,000 others who have been rejected without explanation, making it impossible for them to be reinstated.
The fate of these votes is critical in Florida, where George W. Bush claimed the presidency by a mere 537 votes in 2000. Similar tensions are playing out across the U.S., with 5.3 million citizens unable to vote because of felony convictions — including four million who are no longer in prison, according to the Brennan Center for Justice at the New York University School of Law. Maine and Vermont are the only states that allow felons to vote while incarcerated. Thirteen others and the District of Columbia allow inmates to regain the right to vote after their release, according to the Sentencing Project, a Washington advocacy group. Other states limit voting based on factors including the severity of a crime, the completion of probation and the payment of fines. Restoring the rights of all five million felons who can’t vote is complicated by this patchwork system, said University of Florida political scientist Richard Scher, who noted, “There is no uniformity.”