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15,500 felons regain the right to vote
The state estimates 515,000 are eligible for automatic restoration under new rules.
By ASSOCIATED PRESS
Published June 14, 2007
TALLAHASSEE - More than 15, 500 released felons have had their voting rights automatically restored in the two months since the clemency board approved rules that allow the Parole Commission to give back those rights without a hearing.
That compares to fewer than 14, 000 offenders that had their rights restored without a hearing in the 12 months before the rule changes, according to Gov. Charlie Crist's office.
"They're having great success and it will only get better as we move along, " Crist said Wednesday. "I'd always rather have more, but I'm pleased with the progress and look forward to it accelerating."
Crist pushed the clemency board, which is made up of the governor and the state's three Cabinet members, to give voting rights back to felons once they've completed their sentences.
Murderers and sex offenders are the exception.
The state still has to review hundreds of thousands of people who completed sentences before the rule change to make sure they're eligible.
The state estimates that about 515, 000 people are potentially eligible for automatic restoration. Since early April, the Corrections Department has sent the Florida Parole Commission the names of 105, 000 people it believes meet the criteria.
The Parole Commission has so far reviewed just over 21, 000 cases and restored the rights of 15, 500 people.
Reasons for not restoring rights include the person has died, moved from Florida, has been arrested again or has not paid restitution to victims.
The Corrections Department is lending 100 employees a week to the Parole Commission to help go through the cases to speed up restoration, said Rob Wheeler, an attorney in the governor's office.
The state is sending letters to the last known address of everyone whose rights are restored.
It is also working with community groups to help reach out to people who may not know that they may be able to vote again, Wheeler said.
Bettye Marks of DeLand received notice from the state last month that her rights were restored, and she wrote Crist to thank him.
"When I received my letter in the mail, I began to cry, " Marks wrote.
"I cried because it's been a long hard road and thanks to you and your Cabinet, I've made it. God bless you, Governor Crist, and God bless your Cabinet. I will do everything in my power to take this opportunity and fly with it."