Ex-felon’s election run opens eligibility debate
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