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Gov. Scott assailed for lack of progress in restoring voting rights of ex-offenders

Atty.  General Bondi

Atty. General Bondi

Gov. Scott assailed for lack of progress in restoring voting rights of ex-offenders

“Right now you have 100,000 people who have initiated the voting rights restoration process. These people have paid their debt to society. Now they’ve been left in a state of limbo.”               — State Rep. Perry Thurston, Dem. House Leader 

By K. Chandler

     As the Nov. 2014 mid-term elections draw near, many of Gov. Rick Scott’s policies regarding voting rights restorations for ex-offenders are increasingly coming under fire.

A mere four months after coming into office in Nov. of 2010, Gov. Scott, chairman of the Florida Board of Executive Clemency, with help from newly-elected Attorney General Pam Bondi , effectively dismantled the automatic  process of restoring voter rights for non-violent ex-offenders that former Gov. Charlie Crist had helped to  implement in 2007.

    From an all-time high of 150,000 voting rights restorations during the Crist Administration (2006-2010), the numbers have dwindled to less than a thousand during the Scott Administration. Even former governor Jeb Bush’s record of approximately 75,000 rest-orations during his two terms in office far outstrips Scott’s record.

    Florida’s current rule changes with respect to ex-offender voting rights restorations proposed by Bondi, are considered by many to be the most draconian in the country. Now, instead of having their voting rights automatically re-stored in many cases, ex-of-fenders are being forced to wait five to seven years (depending upon the severity of the crime committed, or if the ex-offender had been previously convicted), before they can even apply to the Clemency Board to have their voting rights restored.

    In justifying her actions, Attorney General Bondi noted, “Committing a felony is a serious breach of the bonds that join us together as a society. As a former prosecutor, I believe felons must demonstrate they are willing to live crime-free for a reasonable period of time before asking to have their rights restored.”

    According to Howard Simon, executive Director of the ACLU of Florida, the Scott Administration’s rationale is in reality, nothing more than an ideological cover for voter suppression. “This is one of the few government programs that has worked precisely as it was designed — namely to try to sup-press the vote of as many African-Americans as possible,” he stated.

    A.G. Bondi’s assessment also flies in the face of former governor, Charlie Crist’s push to have the 2007 Cabinet adjust the voting restoration process. At the time Crist successfully argued that, contrary to popular belief, restoring civil rights is not being “weak on crime;” rather it is a sound decision, enabling individuals to “re-enter society, make a living” and participate in the democratic process.

    It is no secret that the state of Florida has had a notorious record for suppressing minority voting rights that dates back to the 1800s.

    Between the years 1880-1910, Florida infamously applied all sorts of suppression measures to keep Blacks from exercising their 14 and 15 Amendment Rights including literacy tests, property ownership requirements, along with a good dose of physical and/or psychological intimidation. In fact, in 1889, Florida gained the dubious distinction of being the first state in the country to enact a poll tax. This tax remained in existence until 1939, five years before the start of WWII.

    And the Republican Party is not alone with respect to its discriminatory practices honed over the past century or so. In 1902, Florida’s Democratic Party formulated a Whites-only primary policy that shut out Blacks from participating in the nomination of Democratic candidates for office in general elections.  As the South had a “one-party” system back then, that effectively barred Blacks from being represented in the democratic process.

    The Democratic Party could get away with this by duplicitously categorizing political parties as ‘private clubs’ with the right to bar anyone they chose. Despite the fact that Texas’s own “Whites-only” primary policy was shot down by the US Supreme Court in 1944, Florida continued its discriminatory practices, in effect snubbing the highest court in the land.

    Even after the enactment of the Voting Rights Act of 1965 which sought to end once-and-for-all this country’s insidious practice of discriminating against minority voters, the practice continues even to this day.

    Currently, the number of disenfranchised Florida voters is estimated to be between 600,000 and 1.54 million, with over a half a million being African American, or upwards of 25 percent of the total Black voting age population in the state.

    This has prompted State Rep. Perry Thurston (District 94), who is also the Democratic House Leader, to question whether anything short of a change in gubernatorial leadership will stem the tide of voter suppression that seems to continue unabated.

    “Right now you have 100,000 people who have initiated the civil rights restoration process,” said Rep. Thurston in a recent interview. “These people have paid their debt to society. Now they’ve been left in a state of limbo. What they’re doing [the Scott Administration] is continuing to disenfranchise large segments of the community unnecessarily.”

    “Florida continues to be one of the worst Southern states when it comes to utilizing a strategy of depriving certain communities of participating in the electoral process,” Rep. Thurston continued. “Mean-while, other states across the nation are moving in the exact opposite direction, making it easier for ex-offenders to restore their civil rights. Even Georgia and Texas are doing a better job of re-storing felon voter rights. It speaks directly to the ideology of this political party, and the fight they’ve engaged in over these last four years.”

    Concurring, ACLU’s Simon noted, “The spirit of American democracy lives first and fore-most in our right to vote and choose our leaders. But here in Florida, Gov. Scott has done nearly everything in his power to make voting more difficult, from blocking countless citizens from voting, to neglecting the rights of those who can.”


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