Voter Rights Restoration

Thanks to the great investigative work of the Florida ACLU and the League of Women Voters of Palm Beach County, we have a better understanding of the effect Florida’s voter disfranchisement policies have on our democracy.  Charlie Crist, while Governor, signed an Executive Order automatically restoring the voting rights of felons after they had served all conditions of their sentence.  Governor Rick Scott rescinded that order after taking office replacing it with a long, cumbersome clemency process.  Since 1868 Florida has barred people convicted of a felony from voting until the have had their civil rights restored.  Now, a coalition of voting rights advocacy groups, along with Floridians For A Fair Democracy have come together to work to get a referendum on the 2017 ballot to change that portion of the Florida Constitution.

In most states (39), individuals have their voting rights restored automatically at the completion of their sentences.  Maine and Vermont never take away a person’s right to vote.  In only 4 states are voting rights permanently revoked unless restored by clemency.  Of the 5 southern states that disfranchise voters due to felony convictions, Florida is by far the worse, keeping fully 10% of its citizens permanently from the voting booth.

Under the Scott administration, individuals must wait between 5 and 7 years after completing all conditions of their sentencing before they can even apply for restoration of their civil rights.  Once a person applies to the Clemency Board, they may wait as long as 16 years more before their application is investigated.

We here at The Center have spoken with one individual who applied 11 years ago and his case has still not been scheduled for review.  He was 17 years ago when he was convicted of a felony.  Now almost 40 years old, he has never been able to vote.

The coalition needs to collect over 683,000 signatures in order to get the restoration of voter rights referendum on the 2017 ballot; a daunting task for anyone!  When you see a petitioner, please sign on to the referendum.  Spread the word.  Florida has a more draconian voter disfranchisement policy than even many oppressive countries!  The League of Women Voters of Palm Beach County has developed, along with the ACLU a presentation to educate the community about this issue.  You can become a community outreach educator!  Contact the League of Women Voters to learn how.

Voting rights restored

In 2007, then-Gov. Charlie Crist and the state clemency board automatically restored nonviolent felons’ voting rights upon completion of prison term, parole and probation. About 155,000 ex-cons benefited. Under Gov. Rick Scott in 2011, the policy mandated all felons must apply. Since then, 1,534 ex-felons have gotten their voting rights back; about 11,000 are waiting. Here are the number of ex-felons given their voting rights back under recent governors.

governor-chart

Source: Florida Commission on Offender Review

You can read the entire Sun-Sentinel article here

Please contact us here at The Center for Sustainable and Just Communities to volunteer with us on this critical project.

We have begun a documentary project on this issue, similar to what we have done around women’s reentry into their community.  If you  have been involved in this clemency process or know someone who has, whether or not you have gotten your civil rights restored, we want to talk to you! Please feel free to get in touch with us here at The Center.  Leave a reply or go to our Contact Us page and tell us your story.

As we continue to move toward a more diverse and moral society it is absolutely imperative that we include more people in the decision making process – not fewer.

More to come…