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Actor Charles Dutton brings felons' voting rights campaign to Florida, rips Clint Eastwood

4:19 PM, Oct 2, 2012   |    comments
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TALLAHASSEE, Florida - Actor Charles Dutton's long career over the past 25 years has earned him a place as one of Hollywood's most respected actors.

What you probably don't know about him is that, at the age of 17, he killed a man during a fight and spent several years in prison for manslaughter.

As an ex-con in Maryland, Dutton was stripped of his right to vote, a right he did not regain until 2007. Dutton is angry about losing his right to vote for 31 years, and now he's traveling the country with the NAACP in support of the automatic restoration of voting rights for ex-felons.

The NAACP says Florida, Virginia, Iowa, and Kentucky are the only states that deny voting rights to felons after they've completed their sentences.

Dutton says that approach denies a person a chance to be fully rehabilitated.

"If a person comes out of the penitentiary and does everything they're told to do, everything, and then they're denied the most basic of rights, it's not only wrong, it's not only cruel, but you know what's behind it."

Dutton accused Republicans of pushing voting restrictions for felons because many of them vote Democratic. Dutton blasted actor Clint Eastwood for his invisible Obama speech at the Republican National Convention, and said continuing examples like that show why African Americans often vote Democratic.

"When you get the idiots like the idiocy of Eastwood's demonstration that day, the Ted Nugents of the world, the singer Hank Williams Jr., when you get those kind of people representing your party, calling the president every name imaginable, why do you think African Americans don't want to lean in that direction?"

Gov. Rick Scott and members of the Florida Cabinet voted last year to make it harder for ex-felons to regain their rights. They reversed a policy pushed by former Gov. Charlie Crist to automatically restore rights for many non-violent felons.

Now felons must wait between five and seven years after their release before they can apply to have their rights restored.

Democratic state Sen. Arthenia Joyner recalls Gov. Scott describing the tougher policy as reasonable.

"The governor claimed it seemed reasonable. Reasonable? Reasonable because too many ex-offenders are returning to a life of crime? Or reasonable if the GOP is trying to stack the deck against Democratic candidates? You get the message."

The NAACP estimates more than five million Americans are currently stripped of their right to vote, including more than one million in Florida.

Dutton has some advice for them.

"Don't sulk about it. Don't get down about it. If you can't vote but you have a car, then put five people in your car and drive them to a voter registration. Take them to registration. Get involved. Knock on doors. Let that be your vote."

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