ACLU Responds to U.N. Human Rights Committee’s Criticism of U.S. Felon Voting Ban Policies
ACLU representatives testified before Committee, call on State of Florida to reverse course and end disfranchisement of approximately 1.5 million citizens
March 27, 2014
FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE
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MIAMI – Today, the United Nations Human Rights Committee castigated the United States for several human rights shortcomings, including policies that ban people with past felony convictions from participating in elections, a voting rights crisis in which Florida is the worst offender.
Earlier this month, representatives from the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) and a nationwide coalition of civil and human rights organizations travelled to Geneva to testify before the Committee which monitors compliance with the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR), a treaty the US ratified in 1992. In its Concluding Observations following the Committee’s review of the United States’ report on compliance with the treaty, the Committee called on the U.S. to “ensure that all states reinstate voting rights to felons who have served their sentences… and remove or streamline lengthy and cumbersome state voting restoration procedures, as well as review automatic denial of the vote to any imprisoned felon.”
Florida’s lifetime disfranchisement policy, which dates back to the Jim Crow era, has shut approximately 1.5 million Floridians out of our democracy, accounting for roughly one fourth of the disfranchised population of the U.S. and over one fifth of the state’s African American population.
The ACLU of Florida’s Mid-Florida Regional Director, Dr. Joyce Hamilton Henry, who testified before the Committee about the voting ban, stated:
“It is no surprise that the Committee found fault with the Jim Crow-era voting bans that remain on the books today and keep millions from making their voices heard in our democracy. We took no pride in reporting before the committee about the impact the voting ban has had, especially on communities of color in Florida, and while we are gratified that the Committee took what is happening to voting rights in our country seriously, today’s outcome is itself nothing to be proud of.
For too long, Florida’s leaders have played politics with the civil and voting rights of Floridians and the result is a lifetime voting ban system that has shut more people out of our democratic process than any other state. Our state bears the lion’s share of the Committee’s scorn and Florida once again finds itself an international voting rights embarrassment.
Short of constitutional reforms, the responsibility for fixing this broken system is entirely at the feet of Gov. Scott and his Cabinet who make up Florida’s Clemency Board. It’s too late for them to spare Florida this embarrassment, but the Committee spells out exactly what they can do to fix it.
Our state should not be an international outlier for civil rights. We call on Gov. Scott and the members of the Clemency Board to immediately roll back the 2011 barriers they created that exacerbated the voting ban problem and start to put Florida back on track for compliance with international civil rights standards.”
While the Committee’s recommendations are not legally binding, they place an important moral obligation on the U.S. government, which has committed itself to complying with the ICCPR at the federal, state and local levels. A copy of the Committee’s Concluding Observations is available here:
ACLU and other groups submission to the Committee is available here:
The ACLU had previously called on the Florida Clemency Board to reform the voting ban in advance of the UN Committee’s review. More information is available here:
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