CORRECTED: Florida governor wins voting rights for ex-felons

(Deletes erroneous reference to gun ownership in paragraph 7)

TALLAHASSEE, Florida (Reuters)- Florida officials on Thursday voted to end the practice of stripping ex-criminal offenders of their civil rights, including the right to vote.

Florida is one of just three U.S. states, all in the Deep South, that have maintained long-standing constitutional barriers to restoring civil rights to those that have committed serious crimes, rights groups say.

Meeting in a special session, the Florida Clemency Board agreed by a 3-1 vote to allow some 950,000 ex-felons to automatically have their civil rights restored, removing a barrier that goes back 140 years.

The changed rules still require the state’s most serious offenders -- murderers and sexual offenders -- to undergo a formal review by the four-member panel led by Republican Gov. Charlie Crist.

“We must provide a system to allow these people to become productive members of society,” said Crist, invoking Passover and the Easter holidays as a time of forgiveness.

The vote pitted Crist against Attorney General Bill McCollum, also a Republican and the sole dissenter in the ruling, and is just one of a raft of ways in which Crist is distinguishing himself from his predecessor as governor, Jeb Bush, the president’s younger brother.

McCollum chided his Republican colleague for submitting a proposal that does away with a mandatory five-year waiting period before ex-offenders can apply for the restoration of their rights. In addition to voting, the rights include sitting on a jury, holding public office and applying for some professional trade licenses.

“It is a very grave mistake to do that,” McCollum said.