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Here We Go Again? Thousands Who Had Their Voting Rights Restored May Remain on Florida Purge Lists

June 8, 2004

For Immediate Release

Contact Information:
Scott Schell, 212 998–6318
Natalia Kennedy, 212 998–6736

Here We Go Again?  Thousands Who Have Had Their Voting Rights Restored May Remain On Florida Purge Lists
Massive Discrepancies Revealed In Two Govt Clemency Lists

New York, NY—Documents obtained from the State of Florida reveal that the states felon match list for purging voters may include many of 25,585 people whose voting rights have been restored through clemency grants or pardons. Unless corrective action is taken, those wrongly placed on the purge list will be unable to vote in this years presidential election.

The Florida Division of Elections (DOE) attempts to identify registered voters who should be taken off the rolls because of previous felony convictions, using criminal history data supplied by the Florida Department of Law Enforcement. To avoid the disfranchisement of eligible voters, people with felony convictions who have been granted clemency and had their voting rights restored must be removed from that group; otherwise, their names may be wrongly purged from the voter rolls.

According to research by the Brennan Center for Justice at NYU School of Law, the Florida Division of Elections database identifies 145,823 individuals who have been granted clemency since 1964. Documents obtained from the Florida Office of Executive Clemency show a different and larger number of records of processed clemency cases and pardons over the same period, tallying 171,408 individuals.

What explains DOEs apparent undercount of people whose voting rights have been restored? asks Jessie Allen, associate counsel at the Brennan Center. If officials at the Division of Elections know of the larger tally of people who have regained their voting rights, they should explain why they are allowing these citizens to end up on the purge lists. On the other hand, if the Clemency Offices tally comes as news to them, they need to deal with this problem in a hurry.

At 2:00 p.m. on June 9, the annual meeting of the Florida State Association of Supervisors of Elections in Key West is scheduled to address the issue of felon matching. The Division of Elections should use this forum to address the clemency list confusion, added Ms. Allen.

The information available to the Brennan Center allowed only for the calculation of the discrepancy between the clemency lists of DOE and the Office of Executive Clemency. Not all 25,585 potential voters making up this difference will appear on the states purge list. Because the records date back 40 years to 1964, some of the 25,585 have died or moved out of state. Some have never registered to vote notwithstanding the restoration of their civil rights. It is impossible to estimate how many of these 25,585 names will appear on the felon match list, in part because the state refuses access to the list. What is known is that for the 17-year period from 1976 through 1992, when the highest numbers of people had their civil rights restored, the Office of Executive Clemency count of processed cases exceeds the DOE count by 18,582 individuals.

To settle a federal lawsuit, Florida agreed to clean up the civil rights violations we saw in 2000 when thousands of eligible voters were wrongly identified as having a felony conviction barring them from the polls, said the Brennan Centers Ms. Allen. Now were discovering new errors in the administration of Floridas undemocratic laws aimed at separating people from their most basic right as Americans.

The disclosure of the discrepancy in the clemency lists further calls into question Floridas historically troubled effort to bar people with felony convictions from participating in elections. On May 5, 2004, Edward C. Kast, director of the States Division of Elections, sent a memorandum to Floridas 67 county election supervisors, instructing that, for voters identified by the felon filtering matching component of the database, a letter should be sent to the voter stating that she may be ineligible; if the voter fails to respond within 30 days, she should be removed from the rolls.

The memorandum closes by explaining: As part of our quality assurance testing, felon and clemency information was run against a copy of the current voter registration database and has identified over 40,000 potential felon matches statewide. The clemency list discrepancy was either unknown by DOE at the time, or ignored; in either case, the memorandum conveys to the county supervisors an unwarranted confidence in the match list.