ORLANDO, Fla. - One of the rights lost when a person is convicted of a felony is the
right to vote. In many states, nonviolent felons can have their rights restored automatically after completion of their sentence and repayment of any fines or restitution.
However, since March 2011, Florida has moved to restrict the rights of felons to restore their rights.
“I filed to get them restored in 2007. It took until 2012 when I finally heard back from them,” said Seminole County resident and convicted felon Michael Lockhart. “I called to check the status of my file, and they told me that my file was closed.”
In 1997, Lockhart was sentenced to 364 days in the Seminole County Jail for passing bad checks and third-degree grand theft. Since his release from jail, Lockhart has not been convicted of any additional crimes but still owes restitution, and until he pays the amount in full, the clemency board will not reopen his case.
That could take years.
“I feel like it’s designed to keep people like myself from voting,” said Lockhart.
“It has a negative consequences for the whole family,” said
the Rev. Glendy Hamilton of Harvest Baptist Church.
Located in the heart of Orlando’s Paramore District, Harvest Baptist and other churches have been fighting for years for a more streamlined process for the restoration of voting rights, an issue groups including the N.A.A.C.P. said disproportionately affects the black community.
In 2007, Gov. Charlie Crist signed a series of reforms designed to make it easier for felons to get their rights restored. Four years later, Gov. Rick Scott rolled back those revisions, a move that added to the time it takes for each case to be evaluated by the state.
“Forget it, I’m going to die a convicted felon,” said Lockhart, who even after paying back his restitution and court fees, will still have to wait several years just for a ruling from the state.