Statewide Ad Campaign Targets Re-enfranchised Voters
Bilingual Ads Target Citizens Whose Rights Have Been Restored; State Fell Short in Notifying Voters
FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE
EDITOR’S NOTE: B-Roll of the ads in buses and PDFs of the ads are available upon request
MIAMI – The Florida Rights Restoration Coalition (FRRC) and the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) of Florida today launched a voter registration outreach campaign targeting people with past felony convictions whose rights have been restored, as well as those who are unsure of their civil rights status. The campaign comes on the heels of seven years of work educating the public about rights restoration and attempts to get the word out to re-enfranchised voters – a job that FRRC says the State of Florida has failed to take the lead on.
Samples of the ads can be viewed at: www.restorerights.org/buscardgallery.cfm
“The State should have been more pro-active about getting voter registration information out to re-enfranchised citizens – this is something we’ve been calling on the State to do for some time now,” said Muslima Lewis, ACLU of Florida Voting Rights Project Director and FRRC member. “We are nearing the cut-off date for potential voters to register and we are pulling out all the stops to reach as many people as possible. The right to vote is the most powerful right we have as citizens and there are tens of thousands of people who don’t know they may be eligible.”
Governor Crist’s recent executive order requiring that voter registration applications be sent out with notices of civil rights restoration was an important step, but it came eight months after the FRRC and ACLU of Florida asked him to take this action. Also, thousands of Floridians could not benefit from that action because it was taken only weeks before the voter registration deadline for the November 4 election.
The advertising campaign targets Floridians whose civil rights – including voting rights – have been restored, as well as those who do not know their civil rights status. The campaign has been launched in cities across the Sunshine State. The ads are running in Miami, Orlando, Tampa/St. Petersburg, Pensacola, Jacksonville, Ft. Lauderdale, Ft. Myers and Tallahassee.
The campaign has several components, the most noticeable being buscards that are running inside buses in the targeted cities. Over 1,000 buscards were placed in buses around the state. The buscards are in English and Spanish. Other mediums include bilingual posters, window clings, and palm cards that are being distributed at the grassroots level.
Earlier this year, FRRC and ACLU of Florida made a searchable online database available to the public so that Florida citizens with past felony convictions can search their civil rights status. The information was made available through a series of public records request by the organizations. The State followed suit later, making their online tool available this summer. FRRC’s tool is available at: www.restorerights.org/CLEMENCY
The FRRC and ACLU assert that not enough has been done by the State to notify people that their rights have been restored. “What good is restoring civil rights to tens of thousands of people if you aren’t going to tell them,” noted Lewis. “The state is tinkering with a system that needs to be scrapped. We need truly automatic rights restoration in Florida. The system remains bureaucratic and overly cumbersome for the voters. Automatic means your rights are restored upon completion of incarceration or supervision – and you can then immediately go register to vote – what we have is a communication gap and a paperwork nightmare.”
“People around the country have the mistaken impression that Florida’s felon disfranchisement crisis has been adequately addressed by Governor Crist; sadly this is not true,” said Howard Simon, Executive Director, ACLU of Florida. “The State had no real program to notify people of their eligibility and consequently few have registered to vote. That is why we have had to step in and launch a program that should have been conducted by Florida officials last year.”
The FRRC and ACLU continue to call for a truly automatic rights restoration process and in the interim, for concerted efforts by the State to notify re-enfranchised voters of their civil rights status while providing them information on how to register to vote.
“Voter registration should be of paramount importance to the State no matter what targeted the population,” said Lovette McGill, with APRI. “It is especially important for recently re-enfranchised voters who may not even know that their rights have been restored. If the State deems that they should have their rights restored, then they should not stand in the way of them registering to vote.”
“Persons leaving prison will be our neighbors. We need to create opportunities for them rather than block their efforts at all turns,” said Brad Brown, NAACP. “The vote is the first right of citizenship and restoring that right is the first step towards having good neighbors and strong communities.”
While notifying re-enfranchised voters is one hurdle, there are many more who may never regain their civil rights due to the restitution precondition, which remains one of the most onerous hurdles for many ex-offenders. While both the FRRC and ACLU agree that restitution should be paid when ordered by a court, many people are unable to earn enough money to satisfy restitution until they are gainfully employed; and gainful employment is often unattainable without restoration of civil rights. Many state-issued occupational licenses require civil rights to be restored before they can be issued.
The Florida Rights Restoration Coalition is a coalition of over 50 national, state and local organizations dedicated to eradicating Florida’s Reconstruction era civil rights ban. FRRC member organizations host Restoration of Civil Rights (RCR) workshops, lobby the Clemency Board and the legislature for RCR reform, and create public awareness of the unfair ban on civil rights, including voting rights, in Florida. For additional information, visit our Web site at: www.restorerights.org.
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