Advocates call for repeal of Florida’s ban on automatic restoration of voting rights for ex-felons

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Florida is one of only three states in the nation where felons and ex-felons permanently lose their right to vote, according to the National Conference on State Legislatures. So on the last day to register to vote in the Aug. 30 primary election, advocates throughout the Sunshine State called for a repeal of that law Monday.

“The voting ban is the single most powerful voter suppression tactic in the country,” said Dr. Joyce Hamilton Henry, director of advocacy for the ACLU of Florida, at a press conference held outside of the supervisor of elections offices in East Tampa. Similar events were held in Orlando, West Palm Beach and Tallahassee.

According to an analysis by The Sentencing Project, a research and advocacy group, an estimated 5.85 million are unable to vote because felony convictions, and more than one-fourth — 1.5 million — reside in Florida. Hamilton Henry noted roughly one of four blacks of voting age in Florida are denied the right to vote because of a previous felony, and said that the racist impact of the voting ban is “no surprise to those of us who know the racist origins of this policy.”

As a report by the U.S. Commission on Civil Rights said back in 2008, despite Constitutional voting protections under the 15th Amendment, for more than 100 years following the Civil War most blacks were denied the right to vote in many parts of the South, including Florida.

The 1.5 million figure of those disenfranchised because of their felon status in Florida dates from 2010. When Gov. Rick Scott took office in 2011, he immediately rolled back a policy of his predecessor, Charlie Crist, who automatically restored the rights of many felony offenders who had completed their sentences. Scott introduced new rules requiring people convicted of nonviolent felonies wait five years before they can apply to have their civil rights restored; those convicted of violent and certain more serious felonies must wait seven years to apply. Under Crist, tens of thousands of felons, on average, won back their right to vote each year. As of the end of last year, Gov. Scott had restored the rights of just 1,866 ex-felons.

Hamilton Henry called on Gov. Scott to change the law, but there has never been much interest by state Republicans to do so over the years. That means the only way to change the law under present circumstances is to collect nearly 700,000 signatures from registered voters to get the issue on the ballot as a constitutional amendment. A drive last year by activist Demond Meade to get the issue on the 2016 ballot failed because of a lack of support. He’s the man behind the Florida Rights Restoration Coalition.

Congresswoman Kathy Castor, who appeared at the rally but did not participate in it, says that the state of Florida can’t reach it’s full potential until “all of its neighbors reach their full potential.”

“It’s a Jim Crow relic of the past that makes Florida a complete outlier on how we treat our neighbors,” said Castor, adding she’s confident the current statewide ban on ex-felons will be history in a couple of years.

One way to address it would be if Florida elects a Democrat as governor in 2018. The new governor has the authority to change the law, as has been previously done under Govs. Scott and Crist. The Hillsborough County area’s representative also says Congress could address the ban when it addresses the Voting Rights Act following the Supreme Court’s 2013 decision gutting the law, but proposals in both 2014 and 2015, both which have bipartisan support, have not moved in Congress.

“The church comes to speak as a voice not as political awareness, not as a voice of social correctness, but a voice of moral imperative, believing that we cannot continue to allow such a large segment of our population to not participate fully in the benefits of this society,” declared the Rev. James Golden, the social justice chair, 11th Jurisdiction with AME Churches, who spoke at the press conference.

“Law enforcement, faith leaders, employers, and a large majority of Floridians from all walks of life support people being able to earn back their right to vote because it gives them a stake in the community and makes it less likely they will end up back in prison,” said Dr. Benny Smalls, president of the Hillsborough NAACP.

While Florida is one of only three states with such a restrictive ban on ex-felons voting, the governor of one of the other two outlying states, Virginia’s Terry McAuliffe, recently took matters into his own hand by signing an executive order seeking to reinstate the right to vote to approximately 206,000 Virginians who had been convicted of a felony but had completed their sentences. After the Virginia Supreme Court ruled McAuliffe’s blanket order unconstitutional last month, McAuliffe announced he will individually sign nearly 13,000 individual orders to restore voting rights to felons, and will continue to do so until there has been a complete restoration for all 200,000 Virginians.

“My faith remains strong in all of our citizens to choose their leaders, and I am prepared to back up that faith with my executive pen,” McAuliffe said.

Mitch Perry

Mitch Perry has been a reporter with Extensive Enterprises since November of 2014. Previously, he served five years as political editor of the alternative newsweekly Creative Loafing. Mitch also was assistant news director with WMNF 88.5 FM in Tampa from 2000-2009, and currently hosts MidPoint, a weekly talk show, on WMNF on Thursday afternoons. He began his reporting career at KPFA radio in Berkeley and is a San Francisco native who has lived in Tampa since 2000. Mitch can be reached at [email protected]


7 comments

  • Roger Clegg, Ctr for Equal Opportunity

    August 1, 2016 at 3:14 pm

    If you aren’t willing to follow the law yourself, then you can’t demand a role in making the law for everyone else, which is what you do when you vote. The right to vote can be restored to felons, but it should be done carefully, on a case-by-case basis after a person has shown that he or she has really turned over a new leaf, not automatically on the day someone walks out of prison. After all, the unfortunate truth is that most people who walk out of prison will be walking back in. Read more about this issue on our website here [ http://www.ceousa.org/voting/voting-news/felon-voting/538-answering-the-challenges-to-felon-disenfranchisement ] and our congressional testimony here: [ http://judiciary.house.gov/_files/hearings/pdf/Clegg100316.pdf ].

  • Joan Cipriano

    August 2, 2016 at 7:09 pm

    The ban is not a law but a part of the Florida Constitution. Also, Charlie Crist restored voting rights to only nonviolent offenders.

  • nancy fernandez

    August 2, 2016 at 8:53 pm

    Where is the form we can print and fill out?

  • Pastor Pamela L Monroe

    August 3, 2016 at 6:25 am

    I agree that this law is definitely a turn around to restore the right to vote for ex-fellons. I volunteer within the prison systems as a volunteer. With the law being ammended as should be. The move as stated forth in this document, we need this change.

  • Pastor George Paulk Jr

    August 3, 2016 at 6:48 pm

    I was released from Martin Correctional on July 1, 2002 .Jeb Bush was Govenor. I reenteted society to make a change and Advocate for ex offenders to treated like citizens and be assests in their communities that they once broke law in. April 19, 2003 I set on panel With Senator Gary Siplin District 19 .At the first ever held in Orlando Florida Restoration of Civil Right WorkShop and Job Fair exclusively for Ex offenders. The Panel was. Senator Gary Siplin District 19. Chief Judge Arnold of 20th Circuit Court. Lionel Garcia Regional Administrator of Florida Parole Commission. Lydia Gardner Cleck of Court. Rev Charles McKenzie ACLU .Myself Minister George Paulk Jr. I addressed the struggles re-entry an ex-offeder faces as well as the stigma that follows even when time is served monetary obligations are fullfilled. Next I was call to Speak at Governor’s Ex-Offerders Task Force. December 12 2005 Radison Hotel Miami Downtown .I spoke there also as to the barriers that keeps the Ex-Offerders from making a successful re-entry. Next I was invited to Governor Charlie Crist Restoration of Rights Summit. A Summit on Successful Re-Entry. June 17’18 2008 The Capital Tallahassee. This time I addressed Post Release Employment. When Rick Scott took office all prison success that Governor Crist started came to a halt. Well on 8/8/2011 per Rule 10 7year wait.Governor Scott said this Rule applied to me when I made in inquiry on my already pending application 10/30/2007 mind you I was released 7/1/2002 .So I was out 9 years when Governor Scott put this law into afftect. And this is against the law.Every document I send to The Fl Parole Commission gets lost. Something needs to be done to reverse this blatant oppression the Florida Governor has imposed.almost 15 years out of prison and my rights have not been restored. I still Remain hopeful and an still fighting for rights of other Ex-Offerders. Even though being denied my rights to obtain mine Pastor George Paulk Jr. New Covenant Word Ministries International,Inc 321 388 1036 to reach me direct.

    • Joseph O'Brien

      August 5, 2016 at 2:27 pm

      Keep fighting, Reverend. We can win this fight. And we will win. But first, we need to make sure that Republicans get defeated. A BIG step in the right direction is keeping a Democrat in the White House. Obama is reducing the sentences of HUNDREDS of prisoners right now. I think he would allow ALL ex felons to vote, if he had the power to do that by issuing an executive order. But he can only legally do so much. Republicans won’t do much of anything for prisoners rights. When have they ever done anything for prisoners rights ? All citizens should be allowed to vote. Even people still incarcerated. After all, a person doesn’t lose his citizenship when he is sent to jail. When the Supreme Court recently weakened the Voting Rights Act, it was the five Republican justices on the court that did voted in favor of doing that. The four liberal justices opposed that and voted against it.

  • Joseph O'Brien

    August 5, 2016 at 2:13 pm

    Absolutely must dump Rick Scott for a number of reasons. Such as his antagonism to voting rights and antagonism to the rights of poor people by blocking the Medicaid expansion. I’m puzzled about how folks in Florida would give this man a second term. Or even a first.

Comments are closed.


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