The Sentencing Project: Disenfranchisement News/Updates 8/28/08

Florida: 'Bureaucratic Shuffle' Disappointing Gov. Charlie Crist this week ordered his Office of Executive Clemency to make greater progress on granting citizens their civil rights, as the media and advocates have cited little progress on his 2007 policy change granting nonviolent offenders the right to vote, the Miami Herald reported. The article stated that "the governor's actions are too little, too late" for those hoping to vote in the upcoming election. "This was a lost opportunity," said Muslima Lewis, senior attorney for the ACLU's Racial Justice and Voting Rights Projects. "Had he issued today's executive order when we asked him to do so more than eight months ago, thousands more Floridians would have benefited. Waiting until August 27, when there are just over five weeks to register to vote for the November general election greatly diminishes the impact of the governor's action." An Orlando Sentinel editorial challenges Gov. Crist to "finish what you started," as thousands of citizens with felony offenses have yet to be notified on their voting status, despite his June announcement that more than 110,000 individuals' rights had been restored. "That was a good thing," the editorial states about the policy change. "But the process remains archaic because Florida is one of a few states that won't automatically restore civil rights to ex-felons." The Parole Board has lost several employees responsible for processing and contacting applicants causing a major lag and backup in notifying thousands of potential voters. "If you're going to pat yourself on the back for restoring civil rights, Mr. Crist, you may as well free up a few hands to finish what you started," the editorial concluded. According to an investigative report by the Orlando Sentinel, 9,000 of the 112,000 citizens who are newly eligible to vote had registered by the end of July. Virginia: Officials Working to Restore Rights of Hundreds by September Carla Whitehead recently got word from Gov. Tim Kaine that her application had been approved and her voting rights had been restored. "Basically, I view it as part of the restoration of my life . . . the opportunity for me to make a positive impact so others can see it from me," Whitehead was quoted as saying in the Richmond Times-Dispatch. She is among 158 citizens with nonviolent felony convictions who have had their voting rights restored by the governor since mid-April, according to the Commonwealth. Officials gave individuals seeking restoration until Aug. 1 to submit an application for eligibility consideration. Reportedly, 918 were received and 733 of these were found to be qualified. The remaining applications were disqualified due to additional convictions or incomplete information. Officials hope to process applications by Sept. 15. "It's not just about going in and getting your rights restored," said Hasan Zarif, a formerly incarcerated advocate whose rights were restored last year. "We're giving them a recipe for what they need to be doing so when the governor restores their rights, he's restoring the rights of a productive citizen." Kentucky: Advocates Mobilize for 11 Weeks of Registration, Education This week, 14 Kentuckians for the Commonwealth Electoral Organizers began training to help members identify, register, educate, and mobilize 15,000 voters between now and Election Day. Members include advocate Tayna Fogle, former University of Kentucky basketball player and graduate whose rights were restored after a lengthy process of writing an essay and acquiring three letters of recommendations in 2006 - a process that has now been eliminated. Alabama: No Advocate in Attorney General Responding to the various opinion editorials and news articles that have followed the ACLU felony disenfranchisement suit, Alabama Attorney General Troy King wrote an editorial "defending this litigation." "Personally, I have advocated, and continue to advocate, for a change in the Alabama Constitution. We have it within our power as citizens to amend the constitution to prevent all felons from voting, not just those whose crimes involve moral turpitude," he stated. "The United States Supreme Court has said that is lawful and I say it is good policy: Those who violate the laws should not have any role in electing the officials who make and enforce the law. Until the Alabama Constitution is amended, however, I will continue to advise registrars to follow the law and to defend it against the baseless attacks of the ACLU." National: BET Documentary on Disenfranchisement Airs Friday, Sunday In "Locked Out: Ex-Cons and the Vote," BET News correspondent Samson Styles investigates how disenfranchisement laws affect African-American turnout at the polls. As one of the 5.3 million people in America who has lost the right to vote due to a criminal conviction, Styles sets out on a journey to regain his own voting rights, explore the state-to-state differences of disfranchisement laws. Locked Out: Ex-Cons and the Vote airs Friday at 11:30 p.m. and Sunday at 1:30 p.m. Pennsylvania: "Felons Can Vote" Sign at Campaign Headquarters Causes Minor Stir A sign alerting all citizens, including those with felony offenses, to register to vote was removed from the Barack Obama campaign headquarters in Pottstown last week by staff, the Pottstown Mercury News reported. "They just realized maybe it was sending the wrong message and took it down themselves," said Sean Smith, a spokesman from the Philadelphia campaign office. Michael Slater, spokesman for Project Vote, which advocates for full participation in the election process, said the sign should have remained and the effort should be "applauded, not repudiated or criticized." - - - - - - Help The Sentencing Project continue to bring you news and updates on disenfranchisement! Make a contribution today. Contact Information -- e-mail: [email protected], web:

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