Felonies will bar 1.7M Floridians from voting

Like most Americans, Deron Bass will be watching with interest as election results roll in Nov. 8. He won't be casting a vote. Not because he is undecided, but because he is ineligible.

Bass was released from prison last year and is now among the millions of Americans barred from voting because of a felony conviction, according to the Tallahassee Democrat.

"If I'm coming back into the community, working, paying taxes, contributing to society, I should have a vote," Bass said. "I made a mistake, but that shouldn't take away one of my fundamental rights. It's like reneging on my citizenship."

A recent study by the criminal justice reform advocacy and research group, The Sentencing Project, found an estimated 6.1 million Americans are forbidden to vote because of “felony disenfranchisement,” laws restricting voting rights of those convicted of felony offenses. According to the report, about 27 percent of disenfranchised voters live in Florida, and the state is one of four — along with Kentucky, Tennessee and Virginia — where more than one in five black adults are disenfranchised.

Florida is also one of 12 states that can deny voting rights to some or all of the individuals who have successfully fulfilled their prison, parole, or probation sentences, according to the report. Upon conviction of a felony in Florida, a person’s civil rights are suspended indefinitely unless restored by a clemency board comprised of the governor, attorney general, chief financial officer and commissioner of agriculture and consumer services.

Between 1990 and 2015, roughly 271,982 Floridians had their voting rights restored, according to the report.

Depending on an individual's offense, they must wait either five or seven years after completing their sentence or supervision to apply for restoration of their civil rights.

Brenda Brooks, 56, has been out of incarceration for seven years, longer than the five years she served for forgery and theft, and has yet to have her voting privileges restored.

Brooks said she is a Hillary Clinton supporter, and her biggest concerns are improving education and economic opportunity. Brooks received a text from the Clinton campaign asking for her support in the election, and after responding affirmatively, Brooks was informed her civil rights hadn't been restored.

Sitting in Another Chance Transitional Services Center, a re-entry and job placement program in Pensacola, Brooks said she felt like she had no voice and no governmental resource for improving her lot in life.

"You feel like you are excluded from something you should very much be a part of," Brooks said. "I made a mistake, and I deserve to pay for it. But I've been home seven years, and I am still paying for it."


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