The facts are not new regarding the inexcusable denial by Republican Gov. Rick Scott and his cronies on the Florida Clemency Board of the right to vote by those who ran afoul of the law and have paid their debt to society. But every time we see them the outrage starts all over.
To begin with, there ought to be a major review of the type of criminal justice system that we have in Florida that has led to 31.5 percent of the state’s prison inmates being African Americans, although we are only 16.5 percent of the population. It should not be difficult to see that much of it – as is the case across the nation – has to do with the so-called “war on drugs.”
That is for the longer term. The more immediate focus is on the alarming number of African Americans who have served their time and have been released but cannot get the state to restore their civil rights, including the right to vote, serve on juries and run for elected office. The stigma extends further, to include problems obtaining meaningful employment.
As a story in this issue explains, more “compassionate conservatives” such as former Republican governors Jeb Bush and Charlie Crist tackled this gross unfairness head-on. In 2006, Gov. Bush’s last year in office, more than 14,000 former inmates of all races were given back their civil rights. In 2008, after Gov. Crist’s initiatives, the number rose to more than 85,000.
By contrast, after Gov. Scott led the charge to upturn their reforms, the number dwindled to 78 in 2011, while rising to just 342 in 2012.
Attorney General Pam Bondi, who is responsible for the rule changes that require former inmates to wait at least five to seven years before applying for rights restoration, claims this is needed so the applicants can prove they deserve it. But we reject that claim and agree, rather, with Mr. Howard Simon, executive director of the ACLU of Florida. He says it is just “ideological cover for voter suppression.”
Indeed, by refusing to restore civil rights for one category of Floridians, the Scott administration is effectively preventing 520,000 African Americans or one in five blacks of voting age from taking part in the democratic process.
Rather that indulging in this sort of legal gerrymandering, Mr. Scott and company should look towards states such as Delaware which just this week approved legislation that automatically restores the right to vote for non-violent offenders who have served their sentences.
Mr. Scott and members of the Cabinet will come asking for votes in the next election and the campaign has already begun. Let us remind them of this travesty of justice and, instead of giving them the ballot, let us give them the boot.