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Civil Rights Groups Urge Florida Board Of Executive Clemency Not To Further Restrict Voting Rights

3/07/11

Civil Rights Groups Urge Florida Board Of Executive Clemency Not To Further Restrict Voting Rights Move Would Harm Voting Fairness In A State With History Of Serious Election Problems

TALLAHASSEE, FL – Four of the nation’s premier civil rights organizations, the American Civil Liberties Union, Brennan Center for Justice at New York University, the Sentencing Project and the NAACP Legal Defense and Educational Fund, Inc., sent a letter Friday to Florida’s Board of Executive Clemency (“Board”), asking the Board not to further restrict Floridians’ voting rights by requiring every individual with a criminal conviction to apply for restoration of their civil rights after a new waiting period that could be as long as five years.   

Following a meeting with ACLU of Florida Executive Director Howard Simon and representatives from the NAACP, the ACLU learned that new mandatory waiting periods and application procedures may come before the Board as early as this Wednesday, March 9.  Despite the pending action, the board has yet to make the proposal available to the public.

The civil rights groups urged the board to maintain the current clemency rules in Florida and to continue to restore voting rights to individuals who have served their sentences and rejoined the community. 

If Florida rolls back its clemency rules, it will be one of only four states left in the country (Kentucky, Virginia and Iowa are the other three) that deny the right to vote to everyone with a felony conviction for life unless they receive clemency from the governor.  The Board will meet this Wednesday to decide whether or not to adopt the proposed change of clemency rules. 

According to the letter,

“As organizations dedicated to civil rights and criminal justice, we believe that the right to vote is not only fundamental to an inclusive democracy, but also a critical component of an individual’s successful reentry into the community.  There is strong evidence that restoring the right to vote to people exiting the criminal justice system significantly reduces recidivism, strengthens public safety, and helps build a healthier democracy and stronger communities.”

The letter also explains that,

“It is well documented that Florida’s criminal disenfranchisement laws are a relic of a discriminatory past. The voting ban was an attempt to weaken political power of African Americans, and it continues to have its intended effect today. The current law continues to exclude African Americans from the polls at more than twice the rate of other Florida citizens.  Currently, nearly a quarter of those who are disenfranchised in Florida are African-American.”

The full text of the letter follows and is available online.