Ex-felon’s elec­tion run opens el­i­gi­bil­ity de­bate

Orlando Sentinel - - LOCAL & STATE - By An­gel Kennedy

A re­tired handy­man who served 16 months in prison qui­etly ran for pub­lic of­fice ear­lier this month in a small town, ex­pos­ing di­vi­sions in Florida about whether ex-felons can be elected with­out go­ing through the gov­er­nor’s clemency process or re­ceiv­ing a par­don.

Sa­muel David Jones, 66, of McIn­tosh – a tiny com­mu­nity be­tween Gainesvill­e and Ocala in north cen­tral Florida – lost a town coun­cil spe­cial elec­tion Nov. 5 with 23% of the vote. Only 36 of 159 vot­ers chose Jones, who fin­ished third in the race.

Jones spent 491 days in a North Carolina prison un­til Fe­bru­ary 1980 on felony bur­glary and theft charges. He never men­tioned his crim­i­nal his­tory to vot­ers ahead of this year’s elec­tion, de­spite pub­lish­ing cam­paign videos on a lo­cal Face­book group, and said he never planned to dis­close this part of his past. His felony con­vic­tions in July 1975 were dis­cov­ered dur­ing an ex­er­cise on in­ves­ti­gat­ing can­di­dates in a po­lit­i­cal jour­nal­ism course at the Univer­sity of Florida.

“Since it was a lo­cal, small­time elec­tion, I didn’t feel like it was any­one’s busi­ness,” said Jones, who was con­victed four days be­fore he turned 22. “Peo­ple are dif­fer­ent – what you are as a kid is not nec­es­sar­ily what you grow up to be.”

Jones’ lit­tle-no­ticed po­lit­i­cal cam­paign – and the fact that he also had voted in Florida in 2018 – in­ad­ver­tently pushed the le­gal lim­its on Florida’s civil rights de­bate over free­doms for peo­ple who have com­pleted their sen­tences for felony crimes and want to par­tic­i­pate again in Amer­i­can so­ci­ety.

Florida vot­ers last year ap­proved Amend­ment 4 to the state’s con­sti­tu­tion, restor­ing the rights of most ex-felons to vote with­out per­mis­sion from the clemency board. But the Florida Of­fice of Ex­ec­u­tive Clemency said peo­ple with felony con­vic­tions were still re

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