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November 5, 2012 (Daytona Beach News-Herald )

Harder to restore right to vote

For the first time in his adult life, 34-year-old Michael Jones won't be heading to the polls this Election Day.

The U.S. Army veteran was released from jail in September for trafficking stolen goods and because of his felony conviction — and tougher laws under Gov. Rick Scott — he will have to wait more than seven years before he earns back his right to vote.

The Sentencing Project released a report, State-Level Estimates of Felon Disenfranchisement in the United States, 2010, highlighting Florida as one of the toughest states for restoring felons' voting rights. The report also points out racial disparities in felons who have lost the right to vote.

After evaluating the African-American voting age population and recidivism rates for different races, the Sentencing Project estimates that about one in four black adults can't vote in Florida due to a felony conviction. Of the 34,992 inmates Florida Department of Corrections admitted last year, 43.8 percent were black and 52.4 percent were white.

Jones, who is white,  is one of an estimated 1.5 million Floridians who have lost their right to vote as a result of a felony conviction. Advocates for automatic rights restoration claim that the arduous process for re-establishing the right to vote continues to punish felons who have already paid for their crimes.

Jones said even though he is trying to get his life on track, he feels removed from society. "I think that if you do something wrong you should be punished," Jones said. "But to lose my rights for so long is a bit overboard. A felony conviction ruins every aspect of your life. It's hard to find jobs, own a home and it ruins your relationships.

In a close election -- Barack Obama won Florida by about 200,000 votes -- the number of people disenfranchised could make a difference in the swing state.

Issue Area(s): Sentencing Policy, Incarceration, Racial Disparity, Felony Disenfranchisement, Collateral Consequences