Ben & Jerry's backs Florida felon voting rights restoration

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FLORIDA -- (WTVY) A drive to put an automatic felon rights restoration amendment on Florida's 2018 ballot is getting a big assist, courtesy of ice cream giant Ben & Jerry's.

Ben & Jerry's supports Florida felon voting rights restoration
Sent an email to Florida "ChunkMail" subscribers
Ben & Jerry's frequently supports civil causes

The Vermont-based company has activated its Florida email list, calling on supporters to "join the grassroots movement to restore voting in Florida." A recent message directed readers to PeoplePower.org, a website run by the American Civil Liberties Union, which is pledging to spend at least $5 million to gather the nearly 700,000 valid voter signatures needed to get the amendment on the ballot.

The new support could prove critical to the amendment drive. With less than six months remaining before the state's signature collection deadline, organizers are behind the curve. The ACLU projects that a million signatures will need to be collected to account for scores of disqualifications.

Florida is one of three states that don't automatically restore felons' voting rights after they've fulfilled their sentences. In most cases, felons must wait five years before they're eligible to petition the Clemency Board -- a panel made up of the governor and three other statewide elected officials -- for restoration.

The rules were passed in 2011 by the current Clemency Board led by Gov. Rick Scott, reversing landmark reforms championed by former Gov. Charlie Crist that made most released felons eligible for automatic restoration.

In its signature tongue-and-cheek fashion, Ben & Jerry's echoed Crist's proclamation in 2007 that "there's a time for justice and there's a time for forgiveness."

"Here at Ben & Jerry's, we believe in second chances. Like when you drop your waffle cone piled high with Cherry Garcia and sprinkles."

It's not the only civil cause Ben & Jerry's has taken on. The company has supported campaigns on climate change, LGBTQ rights and against fracking.

Their Twitter account raises awareness of several causes -- and tweeted about felon voting rights on July 22.

Even if organizers are successful in putting the amendment on the ballot, recent polling indicates they could face another hurdle: lukewarm public support. A University of South Florida-Nielsen Sunshine State Survey conducted last year found that just 37 percent of registered Florida voters support automatic felon voting rights restoration. The state constitution mandates that amendments must receive at least 60 percent support to pass.

A sustained media campaign, however, could change enough hearts and votes to propel the amendment to victory, according to some clemency reform advocates.

"There's Republicans, Democrats, independents who believe in second chances," said Reggie Garcia, a clemency attorney whose 2015 book, 'Second Chances,' helps felons navigate the rights restoration process.

"I think there is a feeling, particularly if 20 or 30 years has passed and folks have gotten their lives together, that they're tax-paying, law-abiding citizens, that they deserve the right to vote and likely will not re-offend," Garcia said.

Indeed, some felons who have served their sentences say that being allowed to vote would give them a bigger stake in society, easing their reintegration. At rallies, many of them have questioned why Scott, a Republican widely thought to be eyeing a U.S. Senate bid in 2018, voted to reverse the Crist-era automatic restoration policy.

"You say you wake up every morning with it on your mind of how you're going to create jobs for people in Florida?" asked Lashanna Tyson. "I wake up with it every morning on my mind how I'm going to free my people and give them the same rights as you and everybody else in this state!"



 
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