March 17, 2011
Florida: State Board Makes it Harder for Ex-Offenders to Vote
Florida: State Board Makes it Harder for Ex-Offenders to Vote, Activists Express Disagreement
Governor Rick Scott and other Cabinet-level officials voted unanimously last week to revise state rules enacted four years ago that made it easier for ex-offenders to regain the right to vote, The Washington Post reports. Now, non-violent offenders will have to wait five years after the completion of their sentence to apply for the chance of civil rights restoration.
Florida: “Turning Back the Clock”
Erika Wood, Deputy Director of the Democracy Program at the Brennan Center, argues in the Huffington Post that Governor Rick Scott’s new clemency rules ignore a broad consensus among law enforcement and criminal justice professionals that allowing people to vote upon reentry encourages participation in civic life and motivates law-abiding behavior.
Florida’s clemency policy is now the most restrictive in the country and disproportionately impacts African-Americans: nearly a quarter of those who are disenfranchised in Florida are African-American. Florida’s disenfranchisement law was enacted after the Civil War in response to the Fifteenth Amendment, which forced states to grant African-American men the right to vote. The voting ban was an attempt to weaken the political power of African-Americans, and according to Wood, it continues to have its intended effect through Florida’s newly-enacted clemency rules, which are reminiscent of a discriminatory past.
Virginia: 1,100 Ex-Offenders Regain Their Rights
The Richmond Times-Dispatch reports that during his first year in office, Governor Bob McDonnell restored the civil rights of more than 1,100 ex-offenders. “I promised when I ran that we’d have the fastest and fairest civil-rights restorations process in modern history,” McDonnell said in a radio interview. “I think we’ve accomplished that.”
After taking office in 2010, McDonnell set a self-imposed goal of responding to petitions for restoration of civil rights within 60 days. Secretary of the Commonwealth Janet Polarek said the state tries to beat the 60-day mark, with decisions coming for some within two weeks.
Until 2000, Virginia had been one of only two states that required the governor to restore civil rights. The ACLU and other groups have pushed for automatic restoration after the completion of a sentence. The administration has approved about 90 percent of the non-violent ex-offender applications received and about 70 percent of the ones for people with a conviction for violence. Tom Fitzpatrick, the ACLU of Virginia Dunn Fellow, said “The review process has been faster than the past administrations, but there are still 300,000 felons in Virginia that cannot vote due to Virginia’s disenfranchisement law.”
State(s): Florida, Virginia