In Florida, individuals convicted of a felony are stripped of their civil and voting rights, even after completion of their sentences. Loss of civil rights takes away not only the right to vote, but also the right to hold public office, serve on a jury, and qualify for certain types of state licenses necessary for many jobs, such as those in the construction and medical fields.
In order to restore those rights, a person with a past felony conviction must apply for Restoration of Civil Rights (RCR). Only the Governor and the Executive Clemency Board have the power to restore those rights. The entire process is complicated and takes years. Even then, there is no guarantee an individual’s rights will be restored.
Florida is one of only three states that strip all citizens with past felony convictions of their civil and voting rights for life. In Florida, this voting and civil rights ban dates back to the Reconstruction Era after the Civil War when newly-freed slaves were granted the right to vote. Florida officials responded by enshrining this policy into the state constitution, leaving African Americans with little voice in their government for years to come. Today, nearly one in three African-American men in Florida cannot vote because of this system.
The struggle to end Florida’s voting ban against people with past felony convictions took a dramatic new turn. Florida State Senator M. Mandy Dawson filed language for a ballot initiative to place an amendment to the Florida Constitution on the statewide ballot. The constitutional amendment, if passed, would remove the lifetime voting and civil rights ban against people with past felonies — a ban that has been in our state constitution since 1868 — and restore individuals’ civil and voting rights after completion of their sentences.
The Florida Rights Restoration Coalition (FRRC), a non-partisan statewide coalition of nearly forty local, state and national organizations dedicated to achieving permanent reform through a state constitutional amendment, voted to support the ballot initiative through its own campaign to place the amendment on the ballot. The FRRC, which was formed at an ACLU-sponsored statewide meeting of organizations and activists in Tampa in March 2003, will organize local working groups to coordinate signature-gathering in various areas of the state. Local ACLU chapters will also be participating in the signature-gathering effort. Nearly 500,000 signatures are required to place the amendment on the ballot.
Of course, they’re only inerested in forms from people who live inside FL but I’m sure that a flood of petitions from around the country would make these throwbacks realize that the country is watching.