ACLU asks Clemency Board to review voting ban policy receiving intl. scrutiny

Although it's doubtful it will cause any reflection whatsoever on the part of Governor Scott or the rest of the state's executive clemency board, Florida's current policy barring ex-felons from getting their voting rights automatically restored will soon be on display before the world — or at least the U.N. Committee on Human Rights.

The policy has irked Democrats, minority groups and other voting activists for years, as the Sunshine State has disfranchised more than 1.5 million people due to a felony conviction, according to a report published by a host of groups last fall.

Now Joyce Henry Hamilton from the Florida ACLU is poised to travel this week to Geneva to testify before the UN Committee on Human Rights to discuss the policy. But before she did that, she sent a letter to the clemency board telling them they can still block her from making those comments — if they change the policy.

"As Mid-Florida Regional Director of the ACLU of Florida, I have worked directly with countless Floridians who have been shut out of our democracy by our state’s lifetime voting ban," Henry Hamilton writes. "Because of this work, I will be among the ACLU staff reporting to the committee next month in Geneva, giving testimony on how the Florida-specific issues laid out in the report constitute noncompliance with the ICCPR."

The ICCPR is the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights.  According to the ACLU, lifetime voting bans for people with past felony convictions violate the ICCPR.

The current policy has been in place for decades, but received renewed attention after the 2000 president election, when thousands of people were incorrectly placed on a list of felons who were ineligible to vote. It was changed in 2007 after Charlie Crist was elected. His policy change streamlined the process, allowing ex-felons convicted of less serious offenses to regain their rights without a hearing, while those convicted of crimes such as murder required a more thorough investigation and a hearing.

But that policy lasted less than four years, and was repealed after Crist left the governor's office in 2011. Attorney General Pam Bondi was the instigator of that policy change, but was supported by Scott, Agriculture Commissioner Adam Putnam and CFO Jeff Atwater — all of whom make the clemency board. Bondi then set a minimum of a five-year waiting period for ex-offenders.

Adding momentum to the push to rescind Florida's draconian laws regarding ex-felons voting rights has been the outspoken advocacy of Attorney General Eric Holder in recent months. In a speech at Georgetown University Law Center last month, Holder said, “It is time to fundamentally reconsider laws that permanently disenfranchise people who are no longer under federal or state supervision.” 

And he said this:

"Today — together — we need to correct this injustice. As the evidence has shown, and as I pointed out in an amicus brief — filed more than a decade ago, in a case challenging Florida’s disenfranchisement law — 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 pro-law enforcement candidates."

But it will take a new governor to make any changes happen in Florida, regardless of what the UN body may have to say about it. Whether Charlie Crist decides to use it as a campaign issue against Scott remains to be seen.

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