Barred for Life

The process for restoring the civil rights of felons in Florida works perfectly -- if not restoring their rights is the goal

Opinions, however, do not break neatly along party lines, Uggen points out. "You'll find many libertarians among Republicans for whom the idea to limit civic participation this way is anathema. And similarly, I've had one Democrat tell me that the day Democrats come out in favor of criminals voting is the day he'll quit the Democratic Party. Both issues, crime and voting, seem to touch on the core of what it means to be a citizen in society."

Florida's labyrinthine process for restoring civil rights has been a problem under both Democratic and Republican administrations, says Mandy Dawson, a Democratic state senator who sponsored a bill during the 2001-02 session that would have made restoration automatic. It died in committee.

"It's been used as a political tool to smack the Republicans around because they are now in charge," she says. "I don't think it's fair to single out Jeb Bush because it's under his watch now, but I'm hoping he'll consider what a great statement it would make if this were corrected under his watch. In all honesty, it's a political issue whose time has come, and when people take the partisanship away from it, I think the State of Florida will be further along."

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