POLL: Collier, Lee counties helping state restore voting rights to felons

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Southwest Florida elections officials are working to update their voter records.

The initiative is in response to an August 2008 executive order from Florida Gov. Charlie Crist so the state can speed up restoration of civil rights, including the right to vote.

Under Florida law, a person who is convicted of a felony loses his or her civil rights, including the right to vote, serve on a jury or hold elected office.

The state will restore voting rights to a convicted felon involved in less severe, non-violent crime but Florida is a couple of years behind in its record-keeping, said Tim Durham, Collier’s Chief Deputy Supervisor of Elections.

“The state is catching up,” Durham said.

The purpose of the new program is for counties to help the state find felons who are eligible to have their rights restored.

Crist’s order requires a voter registration application to be included in a packet with a Restoration of Civil Rights certificate that is mailed from Florida’s Parole Commission.

Since the summer, all of Florida’s 67 counties were sent packets, each identifying a potential felon, Durham said.

Collier has processed 1,126 such packets since July 1.

They’re still coming in.

All 1,126 residents were mailed a letter by the Collier elections office, Durham said.

As of last week, Durham said 41 responded to his mailing and 267 signed for the certified mail but did not respond.

In Lee County, the numbers are not yet as sharp.

Lee County Supervisor of Elections Sharon Harrington said her office has processed 500 files in the past month.

She counted the certified receipt cards this week and said slightly more than 50 letters were mailed out last week.

“We also have about 10 to 15 packets which we received from Tallahassee — of varying thickness — that still need to be processed, and have files set up on them,” Harrington said last week.

The felon identification process is now somewhat streamlined. It’s not perfect.

It requires verification at the county level, communication with Tallahassee, then more county verification.

According to Durham, each county’s clerk of courts works with that county’s state attorney to process convictions and send a list to the state.

“We used to send it to each and every supervisor of elections in the state,” longtime Collier Clerk of Courts Dwight Brock said last week.

That was so a felon couldn’t move across the county line and register to vote elsewhere in the state.

Last week, the State Department, which oversees the state elections office, did not have numbers for those who lost their voting rights in the past year, or for those who had them restored.

However, according to a March 11 release from Crist, the voting rights of 138,348 ex-offenders were restored in almost two years since the April 2007 rule change.

Prior to that, about 7,000 ex-offenders per year had their rights restored, according to Crist’s report.

Crist’s April 5, 2007 executive order revisited and clarified restoration of civil rights for certain ex-offenders.

In June 2008, Crist announced that the Florida Department of Corrections and Florida Parole Commission completed a review of offenders, convicted prior to 2008, who were eligible for automatic restoration of civil rights.

For more information about the program, go to www.FLRestoreMyRights.com.

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