Tuesday, August 16, 2011

Turning Back the Clock in Florida

by Erika Wood
Huffington Post

A view of a felons world even when out of prison
S. Paul note: 85% of the people incarcerated or convicted of felonies in this country are members of racial minorities.  These people typically vote Democratic.  Add this to the voting restrictions imposed by the Scott Administration in Florida and you have a recipe for the destruction of our Civil Rights to propel a Republican Oligarchy. Are you awake yet?

In less than an hour, Florida Governor Rick Scott denied the right to vote to hundreds of thousands, maybe as many as a million, Florida citizens, turning back the clock decades and making Florida the most punitive state in the country when it comes to disenfranchising people with criminal convictions in their past.
The Florida constitution denies the right to vote for life to anyone with a felony conviction, unless he isgranted clemency by the governor. Essentially it gives the governor, an elected official, the power to decide who will (or won't) be allowed to vote in the next election.

The new clemency rules not only roll back reforms passed by former Governor Charlie Crist, they are far more restrictive than those in place under former Governor Jeb Bush. Under the new rules:
  • People with even nonviolent convictions must wait five years after they complete all terms of their sentence before even being allowed to apply for restoration of civil rights.
  • The clock resets if an individual is arrested for even a misdemeanor during that five-year period, even if no charges are ever filed.
  • Some people must wait seven years before being able to apply, and must appear for a hearing before the clemency board.
  • A provision allowing people to apply for a waiver of the rules, in place under Bush and Crist, was eliminated.
  • Everyone applying for clemency must provide various documents with their application - Bush and Crist had made an exception for those applying for restoration of civil rights.
All of this has to happen just to have the opportunity to ask for one's rights back. Even after the waiting period, the application, and the hearing, anyone could be summarily denied with no reason or explanation. And if that happens, he would have to wait another two years before he can start the process all over again.
Governor Scott is playing three-card Monte with one of our most fundamental rights and steeringhis state straight back to Jim Crow. Florida's disenfranchisement law is a relic of a discriminatory past, enacted after the Civil War in response to the Fifteenth Amendment, which forced the state to enfranchise African-American men. The voting ban was a direct attempt to weaken the political power of African Americans, and it continues to have its intended effect today. Even prior to yesterday's change, African Americans were excluded from the polls at more than twice the rate of other Florida citizens. Not counting those currently serving a criminal sentence, 13% of the voting-age African-American population in Florida has lost the right to vote. Nearly a quarter of those who are disenfranchised in Florida are African-American.
These numbers are sure to go up under the new rules. The new "arrest-free" waiting period requirement will undoubtedly increase the disproportionate impact on minorities. Government statistics show that nearly 35% of all arrests, and 43% of drug arrests, in Florida in 2009 were African-American, even though African Americans make up just 16% of the state's population.
By shutting the door of democracy in the face of those trying to rejoin the community, Governor Scott ignored broad consensus among law enforcement and criminal justice professionals that allowing people to vote when they are back in the community encourages participation in civic life and helps rebuild ties to the community that motivate law-abiding behavior. The country's premier law enforcement organizations, including the American Correctional Association, the American Probation and Parole Association, the Association of Paroling Authorities International and the National Black Police Association have all passed resolutions supporting automatic restoration of voting rights.
Florida's law is now the most restrictive in the country. Since 1997, 23 states have either restored voting rights or eased the restoration process; nine of these states repealed or amended lifetime disenfranchisement laws. These changes have occurred under both Republican and Democratic governors. There has been a national recognition that harsh criminal disenfranchisement laws are a relic of a discriminatory past, are antithetical to the fundamental principles of our democracy, and do nothing to protect public safety or promote successful reentry.
Several times during the brief public meeting yesterday, Governor Scott and Attorney General Pam Bondi referred to voting as "privilege" that should be "earned." But the right to vote is not something to be kept in the Governor's pocket, handed out only as a special treat to his favorite Floridians. To be sure, there once was a time in our country when only the privileged - wealthy, white men - were allowed to vote. But Americans have fought in the streets and in the courts to realize the true promise of our democracy - that all Americans should have a voice in our government. The Governor cannot bury that history under a bunch of bureaucratic hurdles.

Read also: The Republican Threat To Voting


  1. He's actually quite liberal, by my standards: If you don't work/are living off others thoughtlessly via the government - whether you're a CEO or a crack-smoking porch ape - you shouldn't be allowed to vote: You don't pay for government, so why should you have a say in how it's run? Most of America's problems are caused by big corporations and individual citizens who rationalize they have a "right" to something for nothing...To such, Galt-in-Da-Box says a loud FUCK YOU!
    Being a ward of the State means you don't have the brains or balls to run your own affairs.

  2. Your view is a very disturbing one, Ted. Though I agree that some people have and will always try to live off the State, there are many good people in these economic times who have had to turn to the system to support their families. They have lost their jobs because people like Scott have supported the exporting of our jobs for corporate profit through free trade and other, anti-worker initiatives. As far as the ex-cons are concerned, the laws in this nation have become so entrenched in corruption where judges and prosecutors are rewarded for convictions and even simple traffic violations are now being deemed as felony misdemeanors. When a person goes to prison or probation for a felony, they move through a process to repay society for that wrong. It should not be a life sentence. If one has a job, a home and pays taxes, their rights should not be denied as citizens.

    This sort of attitude and false belief that these people are all somehow unworthy of recognition as citizens is the same one that is slowly decaying the foundations of this Nation and serving to destroy the very nature of the founding of it as a beacon of freedom in the world. When people start believing the deception; accepting this decay, they accept the destruction of this nation and its movement toward a Corporatist or rather, Fascist State being promoted by people like Scott, Walker and other right wing oligarchs whose only desire is to destroy what America means.

  3. Ted, I agree with Steven - you're looking at this in a black and white perspective rather than realizing life is rarely that simple. Take for example the people that ended up homeless because the banks bought up the mortgages without their knowledge, signed off on eviction and suddenly families are without a home. Many of those people had also lost their jobs because of the economy crash (hello banks again) so they are now homeless, jobless and unable to vote. They have become non-citizens often through no fault of their own. They have no way to move out of the hole they've fallen into. That's just one simplified example.


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