Press Release

U.S. Rep. Castor Honors Anniversary of the Voting Rights Act, Calls for Restoration of Rights

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Washington, August 7, 2017 | comments
U.S. Rep. Kathy Castor (FL14) honored the anniversary of the Voting Rights Act (signed Aug. 6, 1965) with a visit to the Tampa Bay Academy of Hope, one of the many community organizations working on second chances for nonviolent ex-offenders. She talked to a group of students and young adults about the state of voting rights in America and Florida. U.S. Rep. Castor called on passage of the Voting Rights Advancement Act to address the 2013 U.S. Supreme Court decision in Shelby County v. Holder that weakened the federal Voting Rights Act. She also explained the urgent need to amend the Florida Constitution to restore the rights of nonviolent ex-offenders who suffer under Florida's rigid Jim Crow-style law that essentially bars rights restoration after completion of a sentence and probation.
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U.S. Rep. Kathy Castor (FL14) honored the anniversary of the Voting Rights Act (signed Aug. 6, 1965) with a visit to the Tampa Bay Academy of Hope, one of the many community organizations working on second chances for nonviolent ex-offenders.  She talked to a group of students and young adults about the state of voting rights in America and Florida.  U.S. Rep. Castor called on passage of the Voting Rights Advancement Act to address the 2013 U.S. Supreme Court decision in Shelby County v. Holder that weakened the federal Voting Rights Act.  She also explained the urgent need to amend the Florida Constitution to restore the rights of nonviolent ex-offenders who suffer under Florida's rigid Jim Crow-style law that essentially bars rights restoration after completion of a sentence and probation.

“The restoration of civil rights is part of reintegration to society and is smart policy to ensure ex-offenders can secure employment and become productive citizens.  Most states automatically restore civil rights after the debt to society is paid and Florida should jettison its discriminatory law and do the same," U.S. Rep. Castor explained at the Tampa Bay Academy of Hope, located in East Tampa, where they emphasize hard work to get on a successful path of reintegration through education, mentoring and job placement.

“In most states in our country, your most fundamental voice as an American – the right to vote – is preserved after serving your debt to society.  That is not the case in Florida.”

Some were under the impression they would automatically receive restoration of their rights after a few years of staying on track, which is the process for most states throughout the country.

In June, the Tampa Bay Academy of Hope received a $1.5 million federal grant from the U.S. Department of Labor to develop re-entry programs that bring in ex-offenders from the margins of society.  Yet in Florida, they are permanently disenfranchised from their most basic American right – the right to vote.

“I feel like it’s wrong,” said one student at the Academy of Hope, talking about Florida’s steps to disenfranchise nonviolent ex-offenders.  “Every vote counts.”

Several students and young adults at the Tampa Bay Academy of Hope who spoke with U.S. Rep. Castor this morning made mistakes and got in trouble, but have gone through the expungement process to get on track.  However, the restoration of rights process is even more arduous – nonviolent ex-offenders have to wait a minimum of five years before they are able to apply for restoration of their rights.  The average wait time can be up to 14 years.

U.S. Rep. Castor cast hope on a grassroots effort underway to gather enough signatures to get a voting rights restoration amendment on Florida’s ballot next year.  Some 766,000 signatures are needed by Feb. 1 for Floridians to bring restoration of rights one step closer to nonviolent ex-offenders.

“Floridians are standing up to this injustice.  Floridians are working to put an amendment on to the 2018 ballot in Florida to change our state constitution that would give our neighbors a second chance by restoring their civil and voting rights.”

The numbers in our state tells a story of intolerance and inequality:

  • 1.6 million Floridians, including 25 percent of all African Americans in the state, cannot vote
  • Florida is one of four states whose constitution permanently disenfranchises nonviolent ex-felons and grants the governor the authority to restore voting rights.
  • Florida’s current clemency rules, crafted by Gov. Rick Scott in 2011, are the most restrictive in several administrations.
  • By December 2015, nearly five years after taking office, Gov. Scott’s administration has restored voting rights to fewer than 2,000 Floridians statewide while more than 20,000 applications remained pending.
  • In the period between 2010 and 2016, the number of disenfranchised Floridians grew from 150,000 to a staggering estimated total of 1,686,000.

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