Florida gives voting rights back to felons

Republican Gov. Charlie Crist bucks some in his own party to change Jim Crow-era laws.

Published April 5, 2007 7:50PM (EDT)

Florida, once one of just three states to require that felons apply to have their civil rights restored after being released from prison, has had its law reversed after a push by recently elected Republican Gov. Charlie Crist.

Under the new law, most felons will now have their rights to vote, hold elected office and serve on a jury automatically restored; certain types of violent offenders will still have to apply, but will no longer face a waiting period. It's estimated that the state has some 628,000 convicted felons who are no longer in prison; Florida officials will now be going through the rolls to identify those among that number who are eligible for restoration of rights.

Of course, the issue of civil rights for felons was particularly heated in Florida, where just before the 2000 election voter rolls were purged of thousands of supposed felons who were, in fact, not felons at all.

In backing the change, Crist was bucking his own party, including his predecessor, former Gov. Jeb Bush, and the state's attorney general, Bill McCollum. It's typically Democrats who support restoration of felons' rights, and it's generally believed that Democrats will be the ones who benefit.

Update: An editor reminds us of a previous article by Salon's Katharine Mieszkowski. In her article, Mieszkowski noted one academic paper that asserted that if felons in Florida had been allowed to vote in 2000, former Vice President Al Gore would have received some 60,000 additional votes, thereby swinging the state, and the election, to Gore. Moreover, Mieszkowski reported, the ACLU believes that one-third of Florida's African-American men -- traditionally Democratic voters -- are currently barred from voting.

By Alex Koppelman

Alex Koppelman is a staff writer for Salon.

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