Shanteala Mash of Florida tried to cash five stolen checks. A single conviction cost her jail time, a felony record, the right to vote. Mash, 28, asked the Florida Clemency Board, headed by Gov. Jeb Bush, to restore her rights so she could vote Tuesday for the first time, reports the Miami Herald. She hasn’t received an answer. Nearly half a million felons statewide — more people than live in Miami — face the same reality. All are tangled in Florida’s secretive, laborious, and often error-ridden clemency system, the only recourse for ex-cons who want their rights back.
Bush has drawn headlines nationwide for his promise to be responsive to felons who want to vote again. In a state that bans more people from the polls than any other, the Clemency Board still blocks an overwhelming majority of applicants. The board has adopted some of the harshest rules ever. It allowed a backlog of civil rights applications to surge unchecked for months and refused requests for more staff members to handle mounting caseloads. Since Bush took office six years ago, the board has blocked more people from regaining the right to vote than at any other time in recent Florida history. A Herald investigation found that nearly 40,000 people — 80 percent of the 50,000 felons released between 2001 and 2003 — still can’t vote. Among those barred: nonviolent offenders whose crimes warranted little or no prison time, the very people Clemency Board members say should quickly regain their rights.