One of the first things I witnessed after I became part of the staff of the ACLU of Florida was what happens when politicians are given the power to decide who gets to be a part of our democratic process, and who gets left out.
I joined the staff just weeks before a new governor and cabinet were sworn in. In one of the first acts,this cabinet made a decision that has added tens of thousands of people to the total who cannot vote in Florida – and our state constitution allows them to do it.
Florida is one of only four states which permanently ban a person from having the ability to vote after being convicted of a felony, even after they have completed the terms of their sentence and paid their debt to society.
The state’s system for getting one’s rights restored after completing the terms of one’s sentence is a long, difficult process, and allows the Governor and the Cabinet to decide how they’ll determine who gets their requests heard.
The draconian new clemency rules that were put into effect shortly after I started rolled back reforms passed under previous administrations... and created major new barriers and waiting periods for people seeking to gain back the ability to vote in our elections.
Where under previous administrations, tens of thousands of people were having their rights restored, under the new policies that rate slowed to a trickle. Now, the number of Floridians who are impacted by the ban has ballooned to over 1.6 million -- in terms of sheer number of people who are shut out of the ballot box, Florida’s lifetime voting ban is the most powerful voter suppression tool in the country.
Our voting laws are broken.
Fortunately, Floridians have a chance to fix them.
A coalition of people from all parties and all walks of life are coming together to put an amendment on the ballot which would modernize Florida’s voting laws to stop permanently excluding citizens from our democracy.
The amendment would return the ability to vote to people after they have completed their full sentences – including any probation, parole, fines, and restitution to the victims – bringing Florida in line with most other states.
We believe that when a debt is paid, it is paid. When people who have paid their full debt to society, they have earned the opportunity to participate in and give back to their communities. In fact, doing so will make those communities safer – people who are allowed to earn back the ability to vote are less likely to commit crimes in the future.
Here is how Floridians can Let People Vote:
- Join our conference all on Tuesday, November 14th to get an insider update on the voter restoration amendment campaign. RSVP here: aclufl.org/restorethevotecall
- Click here to view a list of events happening in your area on Saturday, November 18, and sign-up to be a part of our petition-gathering team.
- Ask your friends, family, neighbors, or coworkers to download and print 10 copies (or more!) of the petition and get them signed! Then, be sure to bring the signed petitions with you to a petition-gathering event on November 18.
We are on track to reach our goal, but we need to gather a lot of signatures in the coming months in order to qualify for the ballot.
This is our opportunity to return the ability to vote to Floridians who have done their time and paid their debts – and to make Florida a place that lets people have second chances, instead of giving politicians the power to decide who gets cut out of our democracy.