TALLAHASSEE (AP) — Advocacy groups are asking a U.N.-established international human rights panel to review restrictions in Florida that have reduced the restoration of ex-felons’ voting and other civil rights to a trickle.
The American Civil Liberties Union of Florida sent a letter Thursday to Gov. Rick Scott and state Cabinet members informing them of the request the eight groups have made to the Human Rights Committee.
The letter also urges the state officials, all Republicans, to loosen the restrictions they adopted nearly two years ago. Together the four serve as the state Board of Executive Clemency.
The ACLU letter says Florida leads the nation in disenfranchising former felons. The number of ex-felons who could not vote was 1.5 million, or 10.4 percent of Florida’s voting age population, as of 2010. The restrictions disproportionately affect blacks, a key Democratic constituency. More than one in five of Florida’s black voting age residents cannot vote due to a felony conviction.
“In order to avoid our state’s all-too familiar role as a national embarrassment with regard to the protection of voting rights, we ask you to amend the clemency rules to comply with our human rights obligations,” the letter says.
It was signed by ACLU state executive director Howard Simon and staff attorney Julie Ebenstein.
They wrote that as a result of the rule change initiated by Attorney General Pam Bondi, only 94 people had their rights restored during a 12-month period through March 2012. That compares to 5,582 during calendar 2010 and 24,375 In 2009.
Neither Scott’s office nor a spokesman for Bondi had immediate comment.
Other groups that joined the ACLU in requesting the international review are the Florida Rights Restoration Coalition, Project Vote, the National Congress of Black Women, Florida Consumer Action Network Foundation, Organize Now, Florida Institute for Reform and Empowerment and Dream Defenders.
They want the committee to include Florida’s rights restoration restrictions in its upcoming March review of the United States’ compliance with the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights.
The Human Rights Committee is a body of independent experts that monitors compliance with that covenant and normally meets about three times a year in Geneva or New York, the United Nations reports on its web site.