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Restored Voting Rights decline under Gov. Scott

Posted at 7:53 PM, Mar 15, 2016

Niki Johnson is a junior and the student government president at St. Petersburg College. Years ago she was convicted for having marijuana and another time for writing bad checks.

She never served prison time and completed her probation in 2010.

"I understand now that my choices were choices and those choices have made me the woman i am today," Johnson said.

She lost her right to vote. Since then she's been fighting to get it back.

"I want my children to understand the importance of having a voice, the importance of being part of the community," Johnson said.

The I-Team discovered Johnson is not alone.

The Action News' investigative squad found the clemency board under Gov. Rick Scott has restored the fewest rights to nonviolent criminal offenders who completed their sentences when compared to the past two governors before him.

Joyce Hamilton Henry with Florida's ACLU said it's a problem that affects 2 million Floridians.

"It's scandalous, unconscionable. It shouldn't be happening," Henry said.

Take a look at what we found.

Under former Gov. Jeb Bush, 72,080 offenders had their voting rights restored from 2002 to 2006.

Former Gov. Charlie Crist restored voting rights to 155,314 offenders from 2007 to 2010

But under Scott, a dramatic drop, only 1,551 people had their voting rights restored from 2011 through 2014.

Crist said his numbers were high because he implemented automatic restoration rights for nonviolent offenders, which means once a felon served his or her sentence, that person's right to vote was restored immediately. But Scott removed that policy, when he was elected governor.

"I think it raises your level of concern about what's really going on here, and i think that's really a shame," Crist said. "I don't know exactly what motivates it, but it looks pretty political by and large, and i think that's sad."

Scott, who declined an invitation for an on-camera interview, said criminal offenders need to demonstrate "they can live a life free of crime."
 
Johnson said she is optimistic things will change.

"They're only allowed to sit in that position for so long, another clemency board is coming, have hope," said Johnson.

We reached out to all four members of the clemency board. They all declined requests for an on-camera interview. Those who did respond their written statements are posted below.

The ACLU said they are working on new legislation that will help nonviolent offenders get their voting rights back more quickly.

The Clemency Board is made up of the Scott, Attorney General Pam Bondi, Florida's Chief Financial Officer Jeff Atwater, and Agriculture Commissioner Adam Putnam.

We received the following written statements from representatives of the Clemency Board:

“Governor Scott believes that in order for felons to have their rights restored, they have to demonstrate that they can live a life free of crime, show a willingness to request to have their rights restored, and show restitution to the victims of their crime,” said Jeri Bustamante of the Office of Gov. Rick Scott.

"The Attorney General firmly believes that, out of fairness to law abiding citizens and the victims of crime, it is reasonable to ask felons to apply to have their rights restored and to demonstrate rehabilitation by living crime-free during a waiting period after the completion of their sentences. She strongly supported legislation to separate the restoration of civil rights from the occupational licensing process so as not to impede a felon's ability to obtain a job and become a productive member of society after being vetted by the appropriate authority,"  said Kylie Mason, press secretary of the Office of Attorney General Pam Bondi.

Follow Investigator Jarrod Holbrook @jarrodholbrook