Sam Levine for HuffPo:
There are more than 10,000 people waiting to have their voting rights restored in Florida, but the clemency board meets only four times a year to restore voting rights (some cases are resolved without a hearing). Scott’s immediate predecessors, Govs. Jeb Bush and Charlie Crist, took steps to speed up the process. Scott, who has been governor since 2011, changed the rules to require people to wait five to seven years after they completed their sentences before they could apply. Individuals convicted of less serious felonies have to wait just five years before applying and can have their civil rights restored without a hearing. Those convicted of more serious crimes can have their rights restored only after the panel hears their case.
Obtaining an appearance before the clemency board can take another decade because of the backlog. Reginald Garcia, a Tallahassee lawyer who has represented applicants before the board for decades, said the Florida Commission on Offender Review begins its formal investigation into an applicant about six months to a year before that person’s scheduled hearing. But the yearslong waiting period, he said, is still a crucial time to provide investigators with unsolicited information about how the applicant has turned their life around.
Beyond the court system, civil rights activists are working to change Florida’s process. There’s a proposed constitutional amendment on the ballot this fall to automatically restore voting rights to many felons who have completed their sentences, including probation and parole. Those convicted of the most serious crimes, like murder and sexual assault, would be exempt from automatic restoration.