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Law upheld to keep felons from voting

Associated Press
Published April 14, 2005

MIAMI - A federal appeals court on Tuesday upheld a 160-year-old Florida law that keeps felons from voting, even after they have served their prison time and been released.

Ex-convicts sued in federal court in Miami in September 2000 to get their voting rights restored when their sentences are finished, instead of applying to a state board through a system for civil rights restoration with no guarantee requests will be granted.

The 11th Circuit of the U.S. Court of Appeals in Atlanta did not give a voting tally, but of 12 judges that heard the case, there was one written dissent and one partial dissent. One judge wrote for the majority, and two signed an "especially concurring" opinion.

Jessie Allen, lead attorney for the ex-offenders, said the case will be taken to the U.S. Supreme Court. Activists also hope for action in the Florida Legislature.

"I am confident that one way or another it will change," said Allen, associate counsel at the Brennan Center for Justice at the New York University. Allen argued that the law violated the U.S. Voting Rights Act, was antidemocratic and disproportionally disenfranchised blacks. She said one in five black men here are affected by the law.

The court noted that Florida first adopted its ban on felon voting in 1845, basing it on a "nonracial rationale" since blacks were not allowed to vote at the time.

Forty-six states and the District of Columbia have laws depriving released felons of the right to vote to some extent. In 14 states including Florida, they can be disenfranchised for life.

Jacob DiPietre, Gov. Jeb Bush's spokesman, said rights are restored "through a deliberative and fair review."

George Crossley, a 64-year-old Volusia County resident convicted of soliciting to commit murder in 1996 disagrees. "I should get my voting rights back because I paid the debt. How long should I pay the debt?"

[Last modified April 14, 2005, 01:14:09]

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