For Immediate Release:
Monday, June 28, 2004
Scott Schell, 212 998–6318
Natalia Kennedy, 212 998–6736
Florida Election Supervisors Urged to Halt Mailing of Letters Based on “Felon Match List”
State Admits It Failed to Identify Some Citizens Receiving Clemency Before 1977
New York, NY—In letters sent today to attorneys for each of Floridas 67 County Election Supervisors, the Brennan Center for Justice at NYU School of Law has called for a stop to the mailing of letters that could cause the removal of large numbers of citizens from the voting rolls on grounds that they appear on the States felon match list.
The Brennan Center has presented to the county supervisors lawyers additional information confirming a serious flaw in the felon match list. Specifically, the Florida Office of Executive Clemency (OEC) has acknowledged, in a June 18, 2004 letter to the Brennan Center, that some people who received clemency before 1977, and, therefore, are eligible to vote, were left out of the States clemency database used to create the felon match list. As a result, these eligible voters may appear on the felon match list and are in danger of being wrongly purged.
In the letter from Executive Clemency Coordinator, Ms. Janet Keels, to the Brennan Center, the State explains that [p]rior to 1977, the Office of Executive Clemency did not always maintain identifying information on particular individuals. Therefore, names that could not be tied to other identifying information were omitted from the database.
Said Jessie Allen, associate counsel at the Brennan Center, The State says it has acted to ensure accuracy. The one thing the State has ensured is that eligible voters are at risk. Once again, the State has decided to err on the side of taking away the right to vote. Now its up to the County Supervisors to refuse to use this inaccurate information as a basis for beginning a process that could lead to eligible voters being turned away from the polls in November.
Ms. Keelss letter does not say how many people who obtained clemency prior to 1977 were omitted from the database. The letter also is unclear about the OECs ability to tell inquiring county officials or individual citizens from this pre-1977 clemency group whether such individuals should be on or off the felon match list.
State officials have dismissed the growing outcry about problems with Floridas felon match list by saying that, if wrongly placed on the felon match list, voters have the opportunity to cure the problem by responding to notification letters.
That doesnt solve the problem, said the Brennan Centers Jessie Allen. Think about it. Youre a formerly incarcerated person whose civil rights were restored many years ago. You open a letter that says State records identify you as a felon who is ineligible to vote. Plus, you may know its a crime in Florida to vote if you know youre ineligible. So, even if the information is wrong, even if you still have that 30-year-old certificate proving the restoration of your rights, chances are youll be reluctant to confront the State.
The Brennan Centers letters were sent to the lawyers for county supervisors because the Center presently is suing the State and Counties of Florida on behalf of a plaintiff class of more than 600,000 formerly incarcerated people who are unable to vote.
For the June 8, 2004, press release describing the Brennan Centers research findings regarding the likely inclusion in the felon match list of Florida citizens whose voting rights have been restored, click here.
For more information, call Scott Schell, (212) 998–6318, or Natalia Kennedy, (212) 998–6736.