New ACLU Report Highlights Florida's Failure to Address Continued Voter Disfranchisement Problems; Provides Solutions
FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE:
TALLAHASSEE, Fla. – The American Civil Liberties Union of Florida released a scathing report today criticizing the overly bureaucratic Florida rights restoration process that continues to disfranchise hundreds of thousands of Florida citizens. The report, Still Voteless and Voiceless in Florida, shows that the current civil rights restoration (RCR) process lacks clarity and uniformity, and is excessively burdensome for Floridians who are trying to regain their right to vote, as well as other civil rights including eligibility for dozens of state occupational licenses.
Despite recent changes, many Floridians remain ineligible for restoration of civil rights (RCR) and hundreds of thousands more are eligible, but have not had their rights restored or have but have not been notified by the state.
The report outlines continuing problems with Florida’s clemency process, and includes the results of a survey of employees in all 67 county supervisors of elections (SOE) offices that shows confusion and disparate implementation of revised clemency rules. The report proposes concrete solutions that can be taken immediately to overhaul Florida’s broken rights restoration system. A copy of the report can be downloaded in PDF at: www.aclufl.org/2009votingreport
“Continuing to deny hundreds of thousands of Floridians of the right to vote – the most fundamental right we treasure in our democracy – is a draconian practice. It is time for real change,” said Muslima Lewis, Director, ACLU of Florida Voting Rights Project and the report’s author. “It is time for Florida to shed its shameful past and join the majority of other U.S. states and other Western democracies in restoring civil rights to citizens who have completed the terms of incarceration and supervision and wish to make a better life for themselves.”
The report singles out the much-touted, if misrepresented, April 2007 rules changes by the Board of Executive Clemency (BEC) as falling far short of promises to bring comprehensive change to the still-broken process of civil and voting rights restoration. One of the key hurdles brought to light is the list of preconditions that prevents otherwise eligible Floridians from registering to vote or, in some circumstances, work.
The report also highlights how linking civil rights restoration with license eligibility does nothing to enhance public safety, and impedes meaningful re-entry.
“For many, the ability to obtain an occupational license to be able to work is impeded by the precondition that one must pay restitution before being eligible for civil rights restoration. Since civil rights restoration is required for many state-issued licenses, this paradox prevents many Floridians from being able to secure work and thus, pay their restitution. The system is setting people up for failure and actually impedes victims from receiving court-ordered restitution. Removal of the restitution pre-condition will facilitate re-entry and victim compensation, and also make our communities safer,” Lewis continued.
In a Forward to the report, ACLU of Florida Executive Director Howard Simon noted that the report “describes how the widespread confusion about the restoration of civil rights process by county election officials contributes to further disfranchisement.”
“The report also identifies a new problem,” Simon added, “the perception that, in April 2007, Florida Governor Charlie Crist has solved Florida’s mass disfranchisement crisis by convincing the Board of Executive Clemency (Florida’s Cabinet officers) to revise the Florida Rules of Executive Clemency. That inaccurate and unfortunate perception has become yet another barrier to effectively eradicating our state’s shameful Civil War era legacy.”
EXISTING PROBLEMS WITH FLORIDA’S RCR SYSTEM:
• The current RCR process in Florida is complicated, difficult to understand and wasteful of taxpayers’ dollars;
• Many people do not have the financial means to pay court-ordered restitution, which is required to have their civil rights restored. Until their rights are restored they cannot secure meaningful work;
• The RCR rules are too complicated leading many Floridians to be unaware that they are eligible for RCR;
• Unnecessary administrative delays due to the requirement of case-by-case reviews; and
• Pervasive confusion and misunderstanding of the RCR rules by county elections officials, who are responsible for registering voters whose rights have been restored.
RESULTS FROM THE SURVEY OF ALL 67 SOE OFFICES:
• There is a general lack of knowledge of the RCR process and great confusion amongst employees in local elections offices as to who is eligible for rights restoration post-conviction;
• Over 50% of the surveyed SOE employees do not know that individuals on felony parole or probation cannot vote;
• 40% of SOE employees do not know that individuals do not have to produce certificates of civil rights restoration in order to register to vote;
• 50% of SOE employees do not know that payment of court-ordered restitution is a pre-condition for restoration of civil rights ;
• Fewer than half of surveyed employees know that people with out-of-state convictions can apply for RCR in Florida; and
• 33% of the SOE employees do not know the proper process to purge voters from the voter rolls when their rights have been taken away.
TOP LINE RECOMMENDATIONS INCLUDE:
• The Governor and Cabinet, sitting as the Board of Executive Clemency, should take immediate action to reform Florida’s felony disfranchisement policy to make the process automatic and paper-work free;
• Eliminate restitution as a precondition for voting rights restoration;
• Provide accurate voting rights restoration information and training to elections officials;
• Provide notice and accurate information about voter eligibility to all individuals with criminal records;
• De-couple civil rights restoration and eligibility for state-issued occupational licenses and other jobs that require state certification; and
• Governor Crist should issue an Executive Order to bring transparency to the civil rights restoration process.
The report is being released in advance of tomorrow’s statewide Day of Action, put on by the Florida Rights Restoration Coalition, including events in cities across the state. More information on those events can be found at www.restorerights.org.
If you think your rights might have been restored, you can search the state’s database here: https://fpcweb.fpc.state.fl.us/
Every month, you'll receive regular roundups of the most important civil rights and civil liberties developments. Remember: a well-informed citizenry is the best defense against tyranny.
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