The American Civil Liberties Union requested today that the United States Department of Justice (DOJ) seek a review of the March, 2011 changes to the rights restoration process made by Florida? Board of Executive Clemency because those changes negatively and disproportionally impact minorities protected by the federal Voting Rights Act.
The new rules, adopted on March 9, 2011 by the Board of Executive Clemency, which is composed of the Governor Rick Scott and the elected Florida Cabinet, require Floridians with past felony convictions to endure harsh mandatory waiting periods before being eligible to apply to have their civil rights, including their right to vote, reinstated. The new waiting periods are at least five years and could be as long as seven years. The change in rules will potentially affect more than a million Floridians and disproportionately impact minorities which, according to The Sentencing Project, compose half of Florida? prison population.
?iven the fact that the new five year waiting requirement has a direct impact on voting, and given its adverse impact on minorities, we believe the Department of Justice should request Florida officials to submit the new rule for [review],?Laughlin McDonald, Director of the Voting Rights Project of the American Civil Liberties Union, wrote in the letter.
Under the Clemency rules last revised in 2007, approximately 154,000 Floridians were eligible to vote in the 2008 elections and another 80,000 or more were waiting for reinstatement of their voting and other civil rights when the most recent, regressive changes were made in March, 2011.
?he changes were nothing more than a highly targeted effort to prevent a group of people ?mostly minorities ?from gaining access to the ballot box,?said Howard Simon, Executive Director of the ACLU of Florida. ?he changes, including the secretive and rushed process by which the rules were created, smack of raw politics and intentional, racially focused election manipulation ?and it requires review by the Justice Department.?
On March 25, 2011, the NAACP Legal Defense Fund, the NAACP, and the Advancement Project wrote a letter to Florida Attorney General Pam Bondi requesting she submit the new rule changes for review under Section 5 of the federal Voting Rights Act. General Bondi declined and replied on April 8, 2011, that ?w]e do not agree that the [Voting Rights Act] applies to these rules.?Today? ACLU letter asks the DOJ to require that submission and review.
?hese new rules have a direct impact on who is able to vote in Florida,?McDonald said. ?iven the troubling history of suppressing minority votes in Florida, it is critical that the Department of Justice review these changes to ensure that an entire segment of the population is not blocked from exercising their fundamental right to vote.?
The Board of Executive Clemency approved the March changes in a 24-page proposal made public only minutes before the vote. Despite efforts by the ACLU and other organizations to delay the process to review the impact of the changes and research showing that restoring the right to vote significantly reduces recidivism, the Board approved the changes unanimously with little debate or public comment.
A March 4, 2011 letter to the Florida Office of Executive Clemency co-written and signed by the ACLU, the NAACP Legal Defense and Education Fund, the Sentencing Project and a professor at New York University? Brennan Center for Justice made the impact of any regressive changes clear before the vote. That letter stated:
?t is well documented that Florida? criminal disenfranchisement laws are a relic of a discriminatory past. Florida? disenfranchisement law was enacted after the Civil War when the Fifteenth Amendment forced the state to enfranchise African-American men. The voting ban was an attempt to weaken political power of African Americans, and it continues to have its intended effect today. The current law continues to exclude African Americans from the polls at more than twice the rate of other Florida citizens.?/blockquote>
?o many people marched and died in the civil rights struggles of the 1960s to secure passage of the Voting Rights Act which was designed precisely to overcome manipulating of elections by states that attempt to shut out minorities from the voting booth,?Simon said. ?e?e asking the Justice Department to take a look at this new policy in Florida because it restricts the rights of minorities to vote and is a step backwards on voting rights. In fact, we think it was designed to do just that,?he said.