Restore the Vote:
Disfranchisement Undermines Democracy
American Civil Liberties Union of Florida
ACLU of Florida Palm Beach County Chapter
Restore the
Vote
National Overview
• Over 5.8 million people in the U.S. cannot vote because
of a felony conviction
• Felon disfranchisement laws disproportionately affect
minorities
• Disfranchisement varies widely by state. States fall into
one of 6 types, from full enfranchisement to permanent
disfranchisement
• Overall, the U.S. has the most complex and punitive
disfranchisement system in the world
2
Restore the
Vote
Disfranchisement is Increasing
3
Florida Overview
Restore the
Vote

Over 1.3 million people in Florida cannot vote
because of a felony conviction

900,000 of these Floridians have completed their
terms of incarceration and/or supervision
Communities of color in Florida are disproportionately
affected:
•
Close to 19% of the voting age population of
African-American Floridians are disfranchised
Only 420 Floridians had their rights restored over
2011-2012


4
Florida’s Lead Uncontested
5
Restore the
Vote
The 5 top states by number
disfranchised (in thousands)
The 5 top states by % of votingage population disfranchised
Over 25% of all disfranchised
Americans reside in Florida
One in ten Floridians can’t vote
Voting by Felons Across the States
Restore the
Vote
 UNRESTRICTED:
2 states, ME & VT, allow voting even during incarceration
 DISFRANCHISEMENT ENDS AFTER RELEASE:
13 states and D.C.
 DISFRANCHISEMENT ENDS AFTER PAROLE:
5 states
 DISFRANCHISEMENT ENDS AFTER PROBATION:
21 states
 CIRCUMSTANTIAL:
5 states
 LIFETIME BAN, BUT INDIVIDUAL RESTORATION PETITIONS
ALLOWED:
4 states (Florida, Virginia, Kentucky and Iowa)
6
Claimed Justification
Restore the
Vote
“Felons have, by definition, knowingly and
intentionally violated the laws of society….
[Disfranchisement] gives felons the opportunity —
and an incentive — to prove they are deserving of
exercising their right to vote…Such an incentive
can only encourage their rehabilitation — it should
not be a ‘freebie,’ restored automatically as though
it has no value at all.”
Hans von Spakovsky for The Heritage Foundation
7
The Argument Against—Part 1
Restore the
Vote
“Whenever we tell citizens who have paid their
debts and rejoined their communities that they are
not entitled to take part in the democratic process,
we fall short of the bedrock promise – of equal
opportunity and equal justice – that has always
served as the foundation of our legal system. So
it’s time to renew our commitment – here and now
– to the notion that the free exercise of our
fundamental rights should never be subject to
politics, or geography, or the lingering effects of
flawed and unjust policies.”
U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder
8
The Argument Against—Part 2
Restore the
Vote
“As the evidence has shown…permanent
exclusion from the civic community does not
advance any objective of our criminal justice
system. It has never been shown to prevent new
crimes or deter future misconduct. And there’s no
indication that those who have completed their
sentences are more likely to commit electoral
crimes of any type – or even to vote against prolaw enforcement candidates. “
U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder
9
Historical Rationale: Jim Crow
Restore the
Vote
“To ensure that disfranchisement was complete
[after the Civil War], [southern] states also tailored
laws that disqualified people convicted of criminal
offenses to crimes thought to be committed by the
newly-freed slaves but not by whites.”
NAACP: Defending Democracy, p. 6
10
Jim Crow—Part 2
Restore the
Vote
“The resulting system of unequal enforcement –
and discriminatory application of the law – led to a
situation, in 1890, where ninety percent of the
Southern prison population was black. And those
swept up in this system too often had their rights
rescinded, their dignity diminished, and the full
measure of their citizenship revoked for the rest of
their lives. They could not vote.”
U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder
11
Felonies in Florida
Restore the
Vote
 About ½ of felonies are non-violent crimes, about ½
of non-violent felonies are for drug possession or
trafficking
 Despite roughly equal usage rates, drug charges fall
more heavily on minorities than on whites (see
aclu.org/marijuana for more info), meaning the “War
on Drugs” is taking a toll on minority communities
12
Felonies in Florida
Restore the
Vote
 Should these Florida felonies merit lifetime loss of
democratic rights?
 Counterfeit or alter a state lottery ticket
[24.118(3)(a)]
 Molest a stone crab trap, line or buoy
[370.13(4)(g)]
 Trespass on posted commercial horticultural
property [810.090(2)(e)]
 Possess hydrocodone [893.13(6)(a)]
13
Felon Disfranchisement in
Florida
Restore the
Vote
ARTICLE VI, SECTION 4 OF FL. CONSTITUTION
“No person convicted of a felony or adjudicated to be
mentally incompetent, shall be qualified to vote or hold
office until restoration of civil rights or removal of
disability.”
ARTICLE IV, SECTION 8A OF FL. CONSTITUTION
“ …the governor may… with the approval of two
members of the cabinet… restore civil rights…”
14
Felon Disfranchisement in
Florida
Restore the
Vote
 Restoration of voting rights comes through “executive
clemency.”
 Florida’s Board of Executive Clemency is made up of
the Governor and the Cabinet: Attorney General,
Chief Financial Officer, and Agriculture Commissioner.
 The Parole Commission serves as the investigative
arm of the board.
 Decisions by the Clemency Board have neither
legislative oversight nor judicial review.
 Clemency Board can change rules by majority vote.
15
Reforms and Backlash
Restore the
Vote
Following aggressive lobbying from the ACLU of Florida
and other groups, reforms were passed in 2007 that
streamlined the process for rights restoration and resulted
in an unprecedented number of Floridians having their
voting rights restored:
151,823 had rights restored in 2008
24,954 had rights restored in 2009
5,718
had rights restored in 2010
16
Reforms and Backlash
Restore the
Vote
Those reforms were rolled back and new restrictions were
put in place in 2011 shortly after the inauguration of the
new governor and cabinet:
78
342
17
had rights restored in 2011
had rights restored in 2012
The 2011 Restrictions
WITHOUT A HEARING- those
with non-violent and nonsexual offender status must:
1. AFTER completion of sentence
& conditions (probation &
restitution), wait 5 years before
being eligible to apply.
2. Remain arrest and conviction
free for entire 5 years.
3. Submit application, attaching
certified court documents for
each felony conviction:
Charging Document,
Judgment, and Sentence Order
18
Restore the
Vote
WITH A HEARING – Those who have been
convicted of a “more serious offense”
1. AFTER completion of sentence &
conditions, wait 7 years to be eligible to
apply.
2. Have no arrests or convictions in waiting
period.
3. Must submit application with certified court
documents for each felony conviction
4. Case MUST be heard by the Executive
Clemency Board
5. Executive order must be signed by the
governor plus two members of the
Executive Clemency Board
6. Certificate will be sent to last known
address
The 2011 Restrictions
Restore the
Vote
 When an ex-felon completes the application process, the
Parole Commission reviews the case and either grants
or withholds restoration of rights.
 Ex-felons will be sent a letter and certificate to last
known address
 The Parole Commission maintains a searchable list of
those with rights restored at https://fpcweb.fpc.state.fl.us/
 Those with right restored can print a certificate from this
website
19
Why Restore the Vote - Part 1
Restore the
Vote
The fundamental right to vote is the backbone of
our democracy, and a person shouldn’t lose that
right based on a bad decision from his or her past.
“…[B]ecause the right to vote ‘is of the essence of a
democratic society, and any restrictions on that right
strike at the heart of representative government’
…voting is a ‘fundamental’ right.”
- Justice Thurgood Marshall (joined by Brennan), in
dissent from Richardson v Ramirez
20
Why Restore the Vote - Part 2
Restore the
Vote
Voting helps former felons reintegrate into society,
reducing taxpayer costs and making our
communities safer.
 Data show that voting ex-felons are less likely to reoffend than non-voting ex-felons
 In Florida overall recidivism rate is 33%, but among reenfranchised ex-felons the rate is only 11%. That’s one
third as high, as Attorney General Holder noted.
 88% of incarcerated people in Florida will be released to
their communities.
 Prison costs about $18,000 per prisoner per year
21
Why Restore the Vote - Part 3
Restore the
Vote
Felon disfranchisement is anti-democracy, and
Florida’s lifetime disfranchisement system is the
largest voter suppression system in the U.S.
 Florida’s system of lifetime disfranchisement is a stain
from our state’s shameful Jim Crow past and continues
to weaken the voices of racial minorities in our
democracy.
 80% of Americans support voting rights for people with
past felony convictions.
22
ACLU’s Recommendations
1. Automatic restoration of civil rights (RCR)
2. Remove waiting periods
3. Remove restitution pre-conditions
4. Remove certified document requirement
5. Increase transparency in RCR process
23
Restore the
Vote
What Can I Do?
Restore the
Vote
1. Get groups you support to join the Florida Rights
Restoration Coalition (FRRC).
2. Join the thousands of Floridians who have signed the
petition to restore voting rights in Florida.
3. Ask candidates and elected officials to support
automatic rights restoration.
24
What Can I Do?
Restore the
Vote
4. Support measures like Rights Restoration Fairs that
reintegrate former felons into their communities and
provide opportunities to work.
5. Support ballot initiatives to change the Florida
Constitution to end lifetime felon disfranchisement.
25
Restore the
Vote
For more information, contact:
[email protected]
or read more on our website at:
www.aclufl.org
26
Because Freedom Can’t Protect Itself
www.aclufl.org

Restore the Vote - Palm Beach Chapter