Debate: Should Ex-Felons Voting Rights be Restored?

For hundreds-of-thousands of ex-cons in Florida, the prison door may have opened, but the door to the voting booth remains closed and locked.

Under Florida law, they have to apply to have their voting rights restored - a long process former Florida Corrections Secretary Walt McNeil calls unfair.

He's helping launch a new coalition devoted to lobbying Congress to pass a bill that would give felons the right to vote the moment they complete their sentence.

"The more years you push that out, the less likely they are to achieve, and what they're going to do then is return to a life of crime," McNeal says.

"When somebody has paid their debt to society, it is paid in full."

McNeil served under former Governor Charlie Crist, who five years ago made it possible for ex-cons to have their rights automatically restored - A landmark reform Attorney General Pam Bondi led the winning fight to reverse in 2011.

"I don't believe that any felony should have an automatic restoration of rights," Bondi says. "I believe you should have to ask and there should be an appropriate waiting period."

Bondi and Governor Scott say felons need to prove they're worthy of being allowed to vote, but for Al Crotzer - wrongfully imprisoned for 24 years - that doesn't make any sense.

He had his voting rights accidentally revoked and says he felt like he had less of a stake in society.

"You go backwards instead of forward. Society should welcome people back in," Crotzer says.

The coalition is trying not to touch another argument critics of the current law make. They say it's politically-motivated, designed to prevent ex-felons, who tend to vote overwhelmingly democratic, from casting a ballot in Florida.

The new coalition wants Congress to pass a bill dubbed 'The Democracy Restoration Act'. It's aimed at restoring the voting rights of millions of ex-felons across the country. The legislation has all but stalled in Washington.

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