TALLAHASSEE -- Civil rights organizations, the NAACP Legal Defense and Educational Fund, Inc. (LDF), the NAACP, including its Florida State Conference of Branches, and Advancement Project, together urged Florida Governor Rick Scott and Attorney General Pam Bondi to comply with the Voting Rights Act by submitting newly proposed changes to the state's rules governing voter registration for persons with felony convictions to the federal government for approval.
In a joint letter, the groups addressed the Florida Cabinet's recent attempt to require a person convicted of a non-violent felony to wait five years after completing a sentence before that citizen can even apply for a restoration of her voting rights. Moreover, under the proposed new rule, the clock automatically resets if an individual is arrested during this period, even if no charges are ultimately filed.
"Fortunately, as our letter today explains, before these voting changes can take effect Florida must first comply with Section 5 of the Voting Rights Act. Section 5 serves as our democracy's checkpoint, requiring Florida to submit all proposed voting changes to the United States Department of Justice or a federal court to first ensure that they do not discriminate against minority voters," said John Payton, LDF President and Director-Counsel.
"Florida's proposed voting changes would constitute a complete reversal of the policy enacted in 2007 by previous Governor Charlie Crist, under whose leadership more than 100,000 people regained their voting rights. Under the former rules, the voting rights of nonviolent offenders were restored automatically upon completion of their sentences," said Benjamin T. Jealous, President and CEO of the NAACP.
"Studies clearly show that restoring voting rights to people with felony convictions both serves to help reintegrate people with felony convictions back into society, and to reduce recidivism, important goals that Florida's new restoration process would seriously undermine," said Florida State Conference NAACP President Adora Nweze.
"It is our expectation, and indeed the hope of the thousands of Floridians of color who are disproportionately denied the right to vote because of a felony conviction, that Florida will abide by federal law and submit these changes for approval," concluded Edward Hailes, Jr., Advancement Project Managing Director and General Counsel.