Felons can get voting rights back sooner under Florida’s new clemency plan

Gov. Desantis, Florida Cabinet doing away with waiting periods

I Voted stickers.
I Voted stickers. (2020 Getty Images)

TALLAHASSEE, Fla. – For the past decade, felons in Florida have had to wait at least five years after being released from prison before becoming eligible to have their civil rights restored.

But on Wednesday, Gov. Ron DeSantis and the Florida Cabinet, acting as the Board of Executive Clemency, did away with the waiting periods, opening the door for thousands of so-called “returning citizens” to have their rights restored and possibly wiping out a backlog of thousands of other cases awaiting review.

The revamped clemency rules also establish an expedited process for felons who have paid all of the legal financial obligations related to their crimes.

That “automatic process” is “going to streamline everything,” Attorney General Ashley Moody said.

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“I think this is going to be a huge advancement toward reducing that backlog,” she added. “I think this is a great first step, and I think our numbers will ultimately show that.

The plan adopted by the board --- made up of DeSantis, Moody, Agriculture Commissioner Nikki Fried and Chief Financial Officer Jimmy Patronis --- will “automatically” restore civil rights to felons who have paid all court-ordered fines, fees and restitution related to their crimes. They will have to apply to begin the process of rights restoration, but they will not be required to go before the Board of Executive Clemency to have their cases considered.

Under the new rules, indigent felons with outstanding legal financial obligations will be able to apply to have their civil rights --- the right to vote, serve on a jury and run for public office --- restored but will have to go before the clemency board, which has the authority to waive court-ordered fees and fines.

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