A report released earlier this month by the NAACP found that Florida is among the states with the “most restrictive” felon disenfranchisement “laws in the country” — one of many aspects of the state’s voting practices that will limit voter participation among minorities, according to the group.
The subject of voting rights in the U.S. has received renewed attention since sweeping changes to voting laws were passed in states across the country. Voting rights advocates in Florida have largely focused on new limitations on third-party voter registration, early voting days and ballot measure signatures. Little scrutiny, however, has been given to a rollback of voting rights for ex-offenders, also referred to as returning citizens.
According to the NAACP report (.pdf), Florida is one of only four states in the country that “denies the right to vote permanently to all individuals convicted of any felony offense.”
The NAACP reports: Florida imposed a mandatory five-year waiting period and petition process for the restoration of rights for individuals who have completed their sentences. In March 2011, Florida, which already had the largest disfranchised population of any state in the country (approximately 1 million), rolled back state rules enacted four years ago that eliminated the post-sentence waiting period and provided for automatic approval of reinstatement of rights for individuals convicted of non-violent felony offenses.
The previous rule was put into effect in 2007, allowing the restoration of rights to more than 154,000 people who had completed their sentences. Under Florida’s new rules, all individuals who have completed their sentences, even those for non-violent offenses, must wait at least five years before they may petition the Clemency Board for the restoration of their civil rights, including the right to register to vote. Some offenders even have a mandatory seven-year period before they may petition.
Even worse, the five–year waiting period for individuals convicted of a non-violent offense to apply for restoration of voting rights resets if a person is simply arrested for a criminal offense—even if charges are eventually dropped or the person is acquitted of all allegations.