-By Trymain Lee
October 8, 2012- Eric Bates was caught twice in the late 1990s driving with a suspended license, and then again in 2006. That third time, under then-Virginia law, Bates was considered a habitual offender and was prosecuted as a felon.
He served 14 months in prison and was released in 2008. He returned home hoping to put his legal issues behind him and move on with his life.
But like many of the nearly 1 million people who are released from correctional facilities each year, Bates said he has had difficulty finding steady work and making ends meet. His rather pedestrian criminal record has also come with one other lingering consequence: Bates has found himself among the approximately 5.8 million whose voting rights have been taken away because of a felony conviction.
"I owned up to my crime. I served my time and I just want my rights back," Bates, 53, an unemployed electrical engineer, told The Huffington Post. "I want to participate. But it's just as well as if I murdered somebody. It's a life sentence."
Four states permanently disenfranchise ex-felons. In Florida, Iowa, Kentucky and Virginia, it takes a decree by the governor or a clemency board to restore a person's voting rights, and only after a predetermined waiting period and all fines and fees are paid can an individual submit an application.
In Virginia, that waiting period is two years. In Florida, non-violent felons must wait five years before applying for reinstatement; violent felons must wait seven years.