Restoring the voting rights of ex-felons is the focus of a campaign launched Tuesday by the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People, or NAACP. The national campaign can be seen in states, like Florida and Virginia, where millions of ex-felons do not have their voting rights automatically restored upon their release from prison.
When Governor Rick Scott took office, one of his first decisions was to halt the automatic restoration of ex-felons civil rights. Under former Governor Charlie Crist, thousands of people with felony convictions were able to get their rights restored, until Scott made the change.
Under Scott’s policy, anyone seeking the restoration of their voting rights must first submit an application, then have that application reviewed by the state’s Clemency Board, and the ex-felons must wait a period of five to seven years, depending on the offense, before they’re eligible to apply.
And, National President of the NAACP Benjamin Jealous says that’s why his group feels the need to launch a national campaign, especially in states like Florida, that disenfranchise former inmates. He says the former inmates who’ve served their time need advocates in their corner, and adds he also wants to spark a conversation with Florida Governor Rick Scott, about why he changed the policy:
“There’s been some talk about why the five years, the seven years, but there’s never been a clear explanation about why take these rights back, why turn back the clock, and that’s really what the Governor needs to be forced to answer," remarked Jealous. "And, we’re hoping that he will at some point, deign to explain why he would turn back the clock on an entire group of people.”
The national campaign is called “Restore the Votes” to protect against “felony disenfranchisement.” It includes billboards with some people who used to be in prison and after years of waiting, are still waiting for the right to vote, like Kemba Smith Pradia. She says just to try and restore her voting rights in Virginia, she's had to go through a long process:
“Even though I did receive Executive Board Clemency, just to give you an idea about that process, you have to submit three reference letters. You have to fill out the application. You have to write a letter yourself. You have to submit certified documents from the courts talking about your sentencing order, which you have to pay money for in order to receive those copies. You also have to submit your driving record, and I wasted over six hours at a DMV trying to get that driving record,” said Smith Pradia.
There’s also a billboard with two well-known TV personalities, Judge Greg Mathis and Actor Charles Dutton.
Dutton, joined NAACP’s Jealous as well as Florida lawmakers on the steps of the old Florida Capitol Tuesday to launch the national campaign, and says this issue is very near to him:
“I was released from prison in 1976. That might surprise some of you. I was only allowed to vote in 2007," said Dutton. "So, for 31 years of seeing Charles Dutton on televisions and movies, etc., etc., etc., I was not allowed to vote in my particular state.”
Scott’s policy makes Florida one of only four states in the nation that do not automatically restore voting rights for millions of people who are former felons upon their release from prison. The other three state are Virginia, Iowa, and Kentucky, The NAACP expects to release the billboard ads particularly in those states Friday.
For more news updates, follow Sascha Cordner on twitter @SaschaCordner.