When the state convicts a defendant of a felony, he loses many of his civil rights, including the right to vote. This repercussion makes restoration of voting rights impossible — that is unless he applies for and receives “clemency.”
What is clemency?
The word clemency means to pardon or leniency. In legal terms, clemency is the process by which convicted felons can seek forgiveness and restore their civil rights.
The process of clemency is constitutionally authorized and a hopeful means of restoration for those convicted of a felony crime. It is “an act of mercy that absolves an individual from all, or any part, of the punishment that the law imposes,” the Florida Commission on Offender Review (FCOR) explains.
Do I qualify for clemency?
Not all people with felony convictions qualify for clemency. Activist group Floridians for a Fair Democracy led a recent campaign that proposed an amendment that would have restored the right to vote for most people with past felony convictions upon completion of their sentences. The initiative did not make the Florida ballot for the November 8, 2016 election.
As it currently stands, you cannot restore your right to vote until:
- You have fulfilled your sentence
- Paid any restitution owed in full, including judgments and liens
- Have no pending criminal charges, warrants, or detainers
- Have met the waiting period requirement (usually five to seven years, depending on the offense)
How do felons restore their right to vote in Florida?
To restore your right to vote, you need to formally apply for clemency. To do so, you must complete an application and submit it to the Office of Executive Clemency (OEC) along with the required court forms.
It is highly recommended to have a lawyer help you with the process. For information or assistance, call a Goldman Wetzel clemency attorney at 727-828-3900.
The OEC will review your application to confirm you meet all the prerequisites. If you are eligible, your case will move onto the investigative phase of the process in the Office of Clemency Investigations. In order to receive clemency, the Governor and two cabinet members must agree, although the Governor retains the sole power to deny clemency.
If the OEC grants your request, you will receive a certificate of Restoration of Civil Rights in the mail.
How do I get started restoring my right to vote?
There are currently an estimated 1.5 million people in Florida who cannot vote because of a felony record, reports Tampa Bay Times. Unfortunately, most people do not exercise their right to apply for relief.
Thomas Paine once wrote, “Voting is the right upon which all other rights depend.” If you are eligible for clemency, we encourage you to apply; voting is a meaningful and powerful right. Without it, you are essentially voiceless in the public forum and have no power to affect civil processes.