ACLU Applauds Changes to Aid Restoration of Voting Rights in Florida, Urges Governor to Make Process Automatic
FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE
MIAMI–In a little publicized but important change, Florida’s Office of Executive Clemency, together with the Florida Parole Commission, recently posted a shortened and simplified online version of the form that ex-felons must use to apply for restoration of their civil rights, including the right to vote.
The American Civil Liberties Union of Florida, on learning of the change through a routine check of the Florida Parole Commission website, praised the move but called upon the Governor to exercise his authority to make restoration of civil and voting rights automatic for ex-felons who have successfully completed all the terms and conditions of their sentences.
“”As a result of our work and that of several other Florida organizations and legislators, two barriers to submitting applications for restoration of civil and voting rights have now been removed,”” said Howard Simon, Executive Director of the ACLU of Florida. “”But a change in the process doesn’t help anyone if the Governor’s office does not publicize it and no one knows about it.””
Denial of civil rights means loss not only of the right to vote, but also of the right to hold certain types of occupational licenses, to serve on a jury, and to hold public office. In Florida, convicted felons are indefinitely stripped of their right to vote until they undertake a lengthy application process and are granted restoration of their rights by the Governor and the Clemency Board. Florida is one of only eight states that deny the right to vote to all ex-felons who have completed their sentences. The end result is the mass disenfranchisement of nearly 450,000 people in the state of Florida (far more than in any other state), a disproportionate number of whom are black.
The new application, online at http://www.state.fl.us/fpc/exclem.html, no longer requires ex-felons to obtain certified copies of court records and mail copies of the application to the presiding or chief judge and prosecuting attorney. The official Rules of Executive Clemency, which govern the application process, have not been amended.
“”What we need now is for the Governor and Cabinet to make the restoration of ex-felons’ civil rights automatic after they have paid their debt to society so that they can find jobs, pay taxes, support their families, and not return to a life of crime. Florida’s current rights restoration process makes that difficult,”” said Randy Berg, Executive Director of the Florida Justice Institute.
Berg is lead counsel on Florida Conference of Black State Legislators, et al. v. Moore, a class action challenge to the Department of Corrections’ handling of the clemency process filed by the Florida Equal Voting Rights Project, a joint project of the Florida Justice Institute, Florida Legal Services, and the ACLU.
Before the website changes, ex-felons who wished to apply for restoration of civil rights, including the right to vote, had to fill out a complicated application, request certified copies of specific court records, and then mail copies of the completed application to various offices, including those of the presiding judge and prosecuting attorney. No addresses were provided for requesting the records or for submitting the application copies to the required offices.
In order to make applying for restoration of civil and voting rights easier, the ACLU developed materials to provide potential applicants with the necessary information, and then partnered with grassroots organizations, community activists, and legislators around the state to distribute the packets and provide one-on-one assistance in completing the forms. In February 2002, about one year after the workshop program was begun, the Florida Parole Commission warned of an increasing backlog of applications pending review.
“”Until civil and voting rights are automatically restored after completion of punishment, we’ll keep helping people overcome the barriers that this rights restoration process puts in front of them,”” said Courtenay Strickland, Voting Rights Project Coordinator for the ACLU of Florida. “”The new application form may not change the state’s unknown criteria by which rights are restored — it just makes it easier to submit an application.””
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