Floridians for a Fair Democracy Seek to Change Clemency Laws

TALLAHASSEE-- Hundreds of thousands of Floridians who've served time in prison lose their right to vote because of one of our state's policies and some are calling it the most restrictive rights restoration policy in the nation.

Fifty or so black shirted protestors showed up the quarterly clemency board meeting, angry over what some call the most restrictive clemency system in the nation. Over four years, those getting their rights back has fallen from 30,000 to under a thousand last year.

Applicants must wait at least 5 years before even applying. A single speeding ticket can disqualify someone.

Lashanna Tyson says after a decade of clean living she is still being hampered by not having her right to vote. "Even though I'm out here, I still feel incarcerated. I still feel incarcerated, and that's a hurtful feeling," she said.

Now, a coalition known as Floridians for a Fair Democracy is circulating petitions for a 2016 ballot initiative. It would automatically restore voting rights upon the completion of a sentence.

Civil rights lawyer Mark Schlakman has been advising the group. "And this is about reentering society after the sentence is complete, and regaining the responsibilities of citizenship." Schlakman said.

On average, one in three people released by the Department of Corrections end up committing a new crime, but when civil rights are restored, the number drops to one in nine. The recidivism figure comes from the clemency board's own investigative arm. The study has done nothing to sway policy makers from their get tough stance.

The restoration of civil rights includes the right to vote, serve on a jury, or hold public office. It does not include the right to own a firearm. Legislation pending in congress could require the state to allow former felons to vote in federal elections.