Stew Lilker’s

Columbia County Observer

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Florida's Voting Ban: 130 yrs old. Dates back to after Civil War

TAMPA, FL - Florida is one of three states in the country that takes away the right to vote of a person convicted of a felony. Civil rights groups have been fighting the policy for more than 10 years.

Although felons' voting rights can be restored through a lengthy process, people like Joyce Hamilton Henry, director of the mid-Florida regional office of the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU), say that preventing people from exercising their right to vote is an unfair consequence.

"When an individual loses their right to vote, they're not able to - even when they're back in the community 10, 15, 20, 30 years. We have heard from people who have been not able to fully participate in the democratic process."

The ACLU has submitted documents to the International Committee on Human Rights urging the group to take a stand on Florida's voting ban. The civil rights organization has also urged the state's Clemency Board to change the state policy when it meets in March.

Hamilton Henry said the number of people granted back their voting rights has dropped from 24,000 in 2009 to just 94 last year. She accused the policy of unfairly targeting those living in poverty and minorities. According to the ACLU, nearly one in three African-American men in Florida cannot vote because of the ban.

"What we're asking of the governor and the members of his Cabinet," she said, "is to review the situation and change the clemency rules. Do make it easier for individuals to get their rights restored."

The Voting Ban has been in place for more than 130 years. It dates back to the Reconstruction Era after the Civil War. 

Graphic by the Columbia County Observer

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