The Road to Restoration

April 24, 2018

On this episode of Locked Out, we go beyond the headlines exploring the uphill battle felons face to exercise their voting rights.

Ronald Mills has a bachelor’s degree, a job and a home. The 32-year-old served his time behind bars, but he’s still locked out from feeling like an American citizen. He is one of 6.1 million disenfranchised felons in the U.S. who are waiting and wishing to regain their right to vote.

During election season, it’s easy to forget the power and pride behind your ballot. It’s a civil right. But, very few felons in Florida regain this opportunity. 

One-fourth of all felons who can’t vote live in the Sunshine State. Approximately 60,000 Florida felons have applied to have their voting rights restored since Governor Rick Scott took office in 2011. A felon’s right to vote has only been restored in about five-percent of the cases, said Kelly Corder, spokeswoman for the Florida Commission on Offender Review.

For months, we investigated. We sorted through thousands of petitions that would restore felons’ civil rights. We unveiled the difficulties they face while sitting on a waiting list for years. At a time when the state is debating these issues, we uncover the stories behind the headlines.

The Waiting List

Florida is one of four states that permanently strips felons of their voting rights, according to the Brennan Center. Five to seven years after release, depending on their charge(s), Florida felons can petition the governor and his clemency board to restore their rights.

Still, their name could sit on a waiting list indefinitely.

The system is just arbitrary.

“The system is just arbitrary,” University of Florida law professor Meshon Rawls said. “It causes a lot of ambiguity, a lot of uncertainty and concern. It’s just all up in the air.”

Ronald is about three months away from being able to apply for his rights back.

“It’s kind of depressing and dehumanizing especially once you’ve done what you were supposed to do that has been prescribed by the courts,” he said.

The Timeline

Scroll through the timeline to learn about the history of felon disenfranchisement in Florida. 

How The Current System Works

Felons in Florida must wait five to seven years before they’re eligible to petition the state’s clemency board for a hearing and their rights back.

The board is composed of Florida Governor Rick Scott, Attorney General Pam Bondi, Agricultural Commissioner Adam Putnam and Chief Financial Officer Jimmy Patronis.

Though it only takes two members to approve an application, Governor Scott can veto any case he chooses.

“We can make any decision we want, which you can imagine makes it very difficult,” Governor Scott said. “I think it’s important that we figure out if you’re going to become a productive member of society again.”

Since Governor Scott took office in 2011, his clemency board has resolved about 60,000 pending cases.

Of those cases, only five percent received their rights back, said Corder.

Voices of the Voiceless

These are the voices of felons we talked to who are hoping to regain their right to vote.

Up next: Solutions »