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President Barack Obama and Governor Mitt Romney remain on the campaign trail with the election coming up quickly on November Sixth. Both the President and Governor are heavily courting swing states and undecided voters, especially in key battlegrounds like Florida. But there’s one group neither candidate is targeting – disenfranchised voters.
“If you a convicted felon in the state of Florida. They say you don’t have any rights to vote. We are trying to restore our rights now in this state. That’s holding a lot of us back, as far as having a voice and opinion, as far as political,” said one disenfranchised voter in Gainesville.
The President has spent more than $852,000,000 already this election, and the former Governor $752,000,000. But, even in such a tightly contested election, neither candidate is targeting those who were convicted of a felony in states where their right to vote has been taken away. Only two states allow convicted felons to vote in prison via absentee ballot and 12 states withhold felons’ voting rights, even after they’ve completed their probation. One of those 12 states is Florida.
Florida has the highest rate of disenfranchised voters at over 1.5 million people. That means over 10% of the voting-age population will not be able to vote and 23% of African American men cannot vote November 6.
Florida has some of the strictest voting regulations for felons. In 2010, Governor Rick Scott, Florida Attorney General Pam Bondi and the other two members of the of the Florida Executive Board of Clemency unanimously voted to change the state’s policies concerning convicted felons, which previously had given felons automatic voting rights as soon as they were on parole.
The American Civil Liberties Union has opposed Scott’s policy and says Scotts’ administration hasn’t done enough to let 13,000 felons, who’ve had their voting rights restored, know it.
The Florida Parole Commission (FPC) was responsible for mailing 84,000 Restoration of Civil Rights (RCR) certificates to felons whose voting rights had been restored by Governor Crist. But, the Commission did not have the correct addresses for many of those whose rights were to be restored. Out of the tens of thousands of RCR certificates that were returned to the FPC, at least 13,000 of the names addressed are not registered to vote. But, many may not be aware that registering to vote is even a possibility.
“It’s pretty clear Governor Scott could’ve done more to reach out to these people. The Parole Commission is doing the best they can with their limited resources to reach out to people,” said Baylor Johnson of the Florida ACLU. “He’s been working far harder to limit voting than to make sure people who know they are able to vote can. There are 13,000 rights certificates gathering dust and the Government hasn’t spoken out about them, hardly at all.”
The spokesperson for the Florida Parole Commission Jane Tillman disagrees. She says her department has done their job. “We’ve sent the certificates to the last known mailing address, forwarded it to a return address when available, are making a database of the 13,000 online, and are seeking addresses through the Florida Department of Motor Vehicles,” said Tillman.
Yet, 13,000 people in the state of Florida who have had their right to vote restored still will not be participating in this year’s election having missed the October 9 deadline to register.
(A longer version of this audio story aired on Florida's 89.1 WUFT-FM, the NPR affiliate in Gainesville, FL)
The link below is a visual representation of all the disenfranchised voters in the United States I built.