TALLAHASSEE, FL – Four of the nation’s premier civil rights organizations, the American Civil Liberties Union, the Brennan Center for Justice, NAACP Legal Defense and Educational Fund, Inc., and The Sentencing Project, have sent a letter to Florida’s Board of Executive Clemency, 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.
In a meeting with members of the Executive Clemency Board, representatives from the ACLU of Florida and the NAACP learned that new mandatory waiting periods and application procedures may be announced 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 of Executive Clemency will meet this week to decide whether or not to adopt the proposed change of clemency rules.
According to the letter, “Instituting further administrative hurdles and a waiting period would be an enormous step backward for public safety, for hundreds of thousands of Floridians working to rejoin the community, and for our democracy.
“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.
“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 is available HERE