TALLAHASSEE, Fla. (AP) _ Gov. Rick Scott is mystified over how some former felons manage to register and vote before getting their civil rights restored.
The governor and three Cabinet members, who serve as the state's Board of Executive Clemency, are all Republicans. They declined, though, to restore the civil rights of another ex-felon who said he voted straight Republican.
“I just don't understand how it happens,'' Scott said during a break in the meeting. “Do we not send the information to the supervisors of elections?''
Some applicants said they received letters telling them their rights were restored only to later discover they had not been. Scott said the letters didn't come from the state.
“We don't believe they're coming up here lying that they got something, but we don't know where they're getting it from,'' Scott said.
Timothy Kevin McLaughlin, who was convicted on drug charges in Seminole County, told the panel he had been sent such papers saying his civil rights had been restored. He said he gave them to the county elections office, which sent him a voter registration card. Only after he applied for a pardon did state officials inform him his rights had not been restored, McLaughlin said.
He was among nine applicants who received full pardons. Scott and at least two Cabinet members must approve all pardons and other forms of clemency including authority to possess or use firearms and the restoration of civil rights. Scott denied 11 pardon applications.
The governor, who recently has pushed for the removal of non-citizens from the voter rolls, and Cabinet members made it a point to question ex-felons who had illegally voted although they didn't hold it against the applicants. Scott noted it's been an issue at every clemency board meeting since he took office last year.
Brian Allen Dreher, the accidental GOP voter, said he didn't realize he couldn't vote without getting his rights restored after he completed a sentence for his role in a South Florida stolen car ring.
Parole Commission Chairwoman Tena Pate told the panel that felons are told upon being convicted that they can't vote unless their rights are restored but she surmised many simply forget.
Sonia Dunlap, a state Department of Highway Safety and Motor Vehicles employee, said a woman working in a voter registration drive signed her up at a Tallahassee mall after telling her that her civil rights had been automatically restored upon completing her sentence.
Dunlap, convicted of battery against the other woman in a lovers' triangle, said she figured if the registration drive worker was wrong then elections officials simply wouldn't send her a voting card, but they did. Like McLaughlin, she said she didn't know she wasn't supposed to vote until she applied for a pardon.
She said she returned her card and election officials told her they had no record of her civil rights being terminated when she was convicted because she wasn't registered at that time.
Scott denied her pardon but she'll be able to vote because the panel agreed to restore her civil rights.