Florida’s Voting Rights Restoration Amendment Raising awareness of the pervasiveness and horrible effects of disenfranchisement

by Julie Thaler

I’d like to share some shocking facts regarding voter disenfranchisement and its consequences in Florida:

Nearly 1.7 million Florida citizens have lost the right to vote due to a felony conviction. This includes 23 percent of Florida’s black citizens. One-third of all arrests are drug-related and only one-forth  of those who were convicted served any time in prison.

Florida’s disenfranchisement rate remains the highest among the 50 states, and it is only one of three states, including Iowa and Kentucky, that impose a lifetime ban on felon voting unless restoration is actively sought.

In Iowa, 93 percent of appeals were approved; in Kentucky, 86 percent; in Florida, only 8 percent. Most of the other states automatically restore voting rights once time is served and after completion of probation and parole.

Currently, Florida requires non-violent felons to wait 5 years after probation and parole to file an appeal.  After the waiting period, it takes an average of 7-9 more years before individual cases are heard.

In Florida, Governor Charlie Crist (2007-2011) and his cabinet modified the appeals process and, as a result, 155,000 ex-felons had their civil rights restored.

Our current governor, Rick Scott, reversed this policy and in the first 6 years of his administration, a mere 2,339 received the restoration of their rights. There is now a backlog of over 12,000 appeals on file.

Florida’s onerous policies have the appearance of being deliberately politically motivated. Studies have shown that ex-felons register as Democrats over Republicans by a 5-to-1 margin. This fact indicates that voter disenfranchisement in Florida, which is a swing state, could easily skew election outcomes.

Another study by the Florida Parole Commission found that recidivism rates for ex-felons who had their civil rights restored was 11 percent vs. 33 percent for those who did not have their rights restored. Those who have not had their rights restored have difficulty applying for employment, educational loans and housing.

The felon vote and racism have been historically connected. Blacks make up 17 percent of Florida’s population, but 48 percent of Florida’s prison population. Studies have shown that blacks are more likely to be arrested and convicted than whites for the same felony offenses.

Restoration lowers recidivism, saves taxpayer dollars, it allows the re-integration of people into society and gives them a second chance to become productive citizens.

The proposed amendment clearly states that restoration of rights in Florida will apply only to non-violent ex-felons who have served their time and their parole obligations.

Last month, the Florida Supreme Court heard arguments on the Voting Restoration Amendment. If the language of the petition is approved and the required number of signatures are obtained, the amendment could go on the ballot as early as 2018, or as late as 2020.

We are asking people who are willing to come out of the shadows and come forward to tell personal and compelling stories as part of an organized statewide speakers’ bureau to raise awareness of the pervasiveness and horrible effects of disenfranchisement. It’s time for all of us to stand up and correct this injustice in our state. 

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