For Florida felons trying to win back their civil rights, it comes down to three minutes at a microphone to appeal to four of the most influential men in the state, the Miami Herald reports. The most important is Gov. Jeb Bush, whose objection means instant denial, a trip home with nothing gained. In a state with the highest number of disenfranchised voters in the country, this last-chance option is mired in a backlog of cases that has quadrupled since Bush took office in 1999, a Herald investigation found. The backlog soared as rules adopted by the Clemency Board under Bush excluded more than 85 percent of all felons from a faster process. That’s more than 200,000 applications, the highest percentage of people in 16 years forced to appeal to the board if they want their rights restored. Civil-rights advocates across the state have helped thousands of felons apply for hearings, clogging the system even more. The result: Between 2000 and 2003, the number of people requesting hearings more than tripled.
Bush said in a written statement, “We’ve successfully made applying for clemency easier, which in turn has helped create tremendous demand for clemency reviews and hearings.” Nearly 4,000 people are waiting to appeal to the board. Most applied years ago but won’t get a hearing any time soon. In the past 16 years, the board has heard fewer than 1,500 cases and restored civil rights to fewer than 1,000 felons, the Herald found. During Bush’s tenure, the board has heard more cases than under previous governors, but still only averages 134 a year. At that pace, clearing the backlog will take nearly three decades. “It takes time to adequately review each case, and the staff at the clemency office works very hard to process clemency applications efficiently, without regard to outside pressure or media second-guessing,” Bush wrote the Herald.