Felon Voters

By: Hermelinda Vargas
By: Hermelinda Vargas

Florida law strips convicted felons of the right to vote while in prison, but it also allows for the restoration of that right and the right to serve on a jury or hold public office once an inmate is released.

The right to vote again is not automatic. Each month the Department of Corrections sends a list of upcoming releases to the state's Office of Clemency. From there it's up to the governor and his cabinet to decide whether or not a felon will vote again.

"We have forms here in the office, which I think most any Supervisor of Elections does," says Silvia Stephens, Jackson County Supervisor of Elections.

Jackson County's Supervisor of Elections, Silvia Stephens, is currently researching a list of 115 registered voters who may not be eligible to vote in 2004 because of felony convictions.

"They just need to fill that out. Of course, their case number. They might need to go back to the Clerk of Courts, their probation officer, to help them fill out the forms. We're just here for the forms."

Meanwhile, in Tallahassee the governor and his cabinet sift through thousands of applications from felons, some perhaps from Jackson County, seeking to get their rights restored. Some are allowed their rights without a hearing, but others may have to wait years to plead their case.

The state's Department of Corrections released more than 26,000 convicted felons last year. About three percent of those are from the 14th Judicial Circuit covering Bay and five other Panhandle counties.

Florida is one of only seven states that don't automatically restore civil rights for released felons.


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