The NAACP Legal and Educational Defense Fund is challenging a change in Florida’s rules which would require non-violent felons to wait five years after completing their sentences before they can apply to vote again.
A letter protesting the state’s recent proposal to prolong the removal of convicted non-violent felons’ right to vote was sent March 28 by the defense fund, the NAACP and its Florida Conference of Branches, and the Advancement Project to Florida Gov. Rick Scott and state Attorney General Pam Bondi.
Additionally, under the new guidelines, if a felon is arrested during those five years, the waiting period starts over, even if no charges are filed.
The planned changes reverse a policy implemented in 2007 by former Gov. Charlie Crist, which restored nonviolent offenders’ voting rights immediately after completing their sentences.
According to NAACP Legal and Educational Defense Fund leaders, under this policy, nearly 150,000 people regained their voting rights.
“Studies clearly show that restoring voting rights to people with felony convictions both serves to help reintegrate people with felony convictions back into society, and to reduce recidivism, important goals that Florida’s new restoration process would seriously undermine,” Florida State Conference NAACP President Adora Nweze said in a statement.
But before the new changes are enacted, Florida must first comply with Section 5 of the Voting Rights Act. Under the law, states must have proposed voting changes reviewed by the. Department of Justice or the U.S. District Court to guarantee the proposed laws are not discriminatory.
Laws governing the voting rights of convicted felons vary from state to state. The Sentencing Project organization estimates that nearly 5.3 million Americans are denied the right to vote, with 13 percent of Black men unable to participate.
“It is our expectation, and indeed the hope of the thousands of Floridians of color who are disproportionately denied the right to vote because of a felony conviction, that Florida will abide by federal law and submit these changes for approval,” Edward Hailes Jr., Advancement Project Managing Director and General Counsel, said in a statement.
NAACP leaders requested the Florida governor to notify them by April 8 on when he intends to file for the Department of Justice review. But Scott released a statement on his Web site rejecting the request.