Dan Gelber says Charlie Crist got automatic restoration of felon rights for 1st time in Florida history
As former Gov. Charlie Crist tries to gain supporters in his quest to unseat Republican Gov. Rick Scott, he wants to portray himself as the hero of voter access and Scott as a leader who restricted voting.
Dan Gelber, a former state House Democratic leader from Miami Beach and a Crist supporter, praised Crist for helping felons restore their civil rights, which includes the right to vote:
Gelber wrote that Crist, as governor, “sought for and got approved the automatic restoration of felon rights for nonviolent offenders for the first time in Florida history (since reversed by Governor Scott).”
At PolitiFact our Truth-O-Meter ramps up when we hear any claims about a “first” so we wanted to check if Gelber’s claim was correct.
History of restoration of felon rights
Restoring felons’ civil rights can include the right to vote, serve on a jury and run for office.
The roots of disenfranchisement for ex-offenders extend back to 1845 when Florida’s General Assembly enacted a law that stated: “no person who shall hereafter be convicted of bribery, perjury, or other infamous crime, shall be entitled to the right of suffrage.”
In the mid 20th Century, a small number of ex-offenders could get their rights restored by the Parole Commission. By 1968, the Constitution placed that power in the hands of the Cabinet.
In the 1970s, there was pressure from the Legislature on Gov. Reubin Askew, a Democrat, to make it easier to restore civil rights. Legislators passed a bill in 1974 that included automatic reinstatement, but the Florida Supreme Court declared that unconstitutional because it bypassed the governor’s clemency power.
Askew then convinced the Cabinet to amend the clemency rules to make restoration easier.
Randall Berg, a civil rights attorney at the Florida Justice Institute, told PolitiFact that Askew was motivated by a personal belief that “after one had served their time, they had paid their debt and ought to start with a clean slate so they might become productive members of society.”
Askew also wanted to speed up the process. The Cabinet restored rights in its role as the Executive Clemency Review Board, but meetings were only held quarterly, and the process was slow.
“There were simply too many people to determine who got their civil rights restored and who did not,” Berg said in an email.