Tallahassee - People For the American Way Foundation (PFAWF) has created www.RestoreMyVote.com, a searchable web site of more than 250,000 names and a toll-free hotline, 1-877-60 RESTORE (1-877-607-3786), in a nonpartisan effort to help ex-offenders in Florida find out whether their voting rights have been restored, and provide information and assistance in registering to vote.
“There are thousands of Floridians across the state who may not know they are eligible to register and vote. We’ve set up the hotline and created the web site to help them, and we’re calling on county election supervisors, our allies in the civil rights community, churches and other places of worship, and the news media to help us get the word out,” said Reggie Mitchell, PFAWF’s Florida Legal Counsel. “For too long, Florida has been the state that tried to keep people off the voting rolls. It’s time to bring voters in, not shut them out.”
In April, Governor Charlie Crist issued new rules that streamline the clemency process for ex-offenders convicted of nonviolent crimes, so long as they have paid any victim restitution and have no criminal charges pending against them.
“Voting is our voice. It makes individuals part of a community, and helps communities build power,” said State Senator Anthony C. “Tony” Hill, who represents District 1. “It is the most fundamental right in our democracy and is the source of our power as citizens.”
Senator Hill and State Representative Curtis Richardson will be sponsoring legislation in their respective chambers intended to ease the process of getting those citizens who have had their rights restored back on the voter rolls.
“We’ve got a big election coming up in 2008,” said Richardson, who represents District 8. “Democracy works best when more people come to the polls, and cast a vote that will count. We’re hopeful this project, along with pending legislation, will add thousands of eligible voters to the rolls throughout Florida.”
Leon County Supervisor of Elections Ion Sancho noted that while these new rules have been implemented, more must be done to ensure all eligible voters can register, and cast a ballot that will be counted.
"Historically, Florida Supervisors of Elections have asked the state legislature to correct Florida’s clemency process," said Sancho. "The initial steps taken by the governor and his cabinet are heartily applauded, but much remains to be done if we are going to provide a reasonable and efficient process for accomplishing the restoration of civil rights."
Those who think they might be on the list can go to the web site, search for their names, and get information on how to register to vote in their counties. Those without access to the Internet can simply call the hotline for assistance.
Mitchell noted that the Florida ACLU, a valued partner in this endeavor, also has a hotline assisting ex-offenders with the clemency process, and said the two organizations would share information to help register voters.
PFAWF has partnered with the Florida ACLU and other allies in the Florida Rights Restoration Coalition (FRRC).
Muslima Lewis, Senior Attorney and Racial Justice Project Director with the ACLU of Florida, and a founding member of the FRRC, said the coalition is seeking further action to assist ex-offenders in obtaining clemency.
"Today, the Florida Rights Restoration Coalition asks the Governor to ease the voter registration process for people whose civil rights have been restored by directing the Office of Executive Clemency to include a Voter Registration Application Form with the rights restoration certificates that the Office of Executive Clemency is already sending these citizens,” said Lewis. “Individuals seeking assistance restoring their civil rights can contact the FRRC at our toll free number: 877-826-8682 or 877-U-COUNT-2.”