Florida Voting Rights Report

Still Voteless and Voiceless in Florida

Charlie Crist Notes

"Dignity, justice, honor; at what point do the punished have the right to a simple chance to come back to society . . . Those whose lives we discuss today have served a sentence, as they should have; but what right have we here to add to that sentence?"

Excerpts from Governor Charlie Crist's Clemency Board Notes on the Restoration of Civil Rights, 2007


Ending Florida's system of lifetime felon disfranchisement is the unfinished business of the civil rights movement.

This shameful system of lifetime disfranchisement puts the Sunshine State out of step with the majority of states in the U.S. and the world's democracies. Although we pride ourselves on holding free and fair elections, in reality America's disfranchisement policies shut out more citizens from the democratic process than any other nation in the world. Disfranchisement policies bar over 5 million U.S. citizens from the polls - many of whom have fully served their sentences. Almost 20% of these citizens reside in Florida.

U.S. disfranchisement policies also disproportionately affect African Americans and other minorities. Although these policies have been in effect for many years, they were significantly expanded and flourished during Reconstruction and the Jim Crow era. Their purpose has been to deny the franchise to as many of the freed slaves as possible. (One might argue that the disfranchisement policies worked precisely as intended.)

Now in the 21st Century they affect a growing segment of the population, as the United States' criminal justice system convicts and imprisons more people than ever before, and now has the world's highest rate of incarceration.

This report describes alarming problems, including how widespread confusion among Florida election officials about the restoration of civil rights process contributes to disfranchisement. This report also identifies a new problem -- the perception that, in April 2007, Florida Governor Charlie Crist resolved Florida's mass disfranchisement crisis by engineering reforms in the Florida Rules of Executive Clemency through the Board of Executive Clemency, composed of the Governor and Florida's Cabinet officers. That inaccurate and unfortunate perception has become a barrier to effectively eradicating our state's shameful Civil War era legacy.

Thanks for this important report go to Muslima Lewis, Senior Attorney and Director of the Racal Justice and Voting Rights Project of the American Civil Liberties Union of Florida, Project staff members, volunteers and interns, and our partners in Florida and elsewhere, who are all dedicated to ending barriers to the exercise of the most precious right in a democracy -- the right to vote.

Documenting the gap between the oft-repeated misimpression of policies that were adopted in April 2007 and the actual limited effect of those changes should spur the State's chief officers, sitting as the Board of Executive Clemency, to remove impediments to the full integration of former offenders into civil society.

The Florida clemency process can, and should, be reformed to make the restoration of civil and voting rights virtually automatic. What is truly required for Florida to re-join the majority of other states, and the world's democracies, is the removal of the provisions that mandate lifetime disfranchisement from our State's Constitution.

Executive Director, American Civil Liberties Union of Florida