Hankins, 43, served 18 years in federal prison for selling crack cocaine. Since her release in 2008, she has completed an associate’s degree, started a publishing company and run an advocacy group for criminal justice.
Although Hankins has never voted, she said she’s earned that right. But she is frustrated and worried that regaining her rights — to vote, serve on a jury and hold public office — might not happen until she’s “50, 60 years old,” Hankins said.
Florida leads the nation in disenfranchising felons, especially African Americans. In 2010, about 520,500 African Americans — 23 percent of the state’s black voting age population — could not vote because of a felony conviction, according to The Sentencing Project, a Washington, D.C., criminal justice reform group.
An estimated 5.85 million felons across the country could not vote in 2010, the last year for which The Sentencing Project has data.
Florida’s process for restoring a felon’s civil rights grew stricter last year when Scott and his Cabinet — Attorney General Pam Bondi, Chief Financial Officer Jeff Atwater and Commissioner of Agriculture Adam Putnam — established a five- or seven-year wait, depending on the offense, before felons could apply to have their rights restored.
“It certainly has a racially disproportionate impact, just as the criminal justice system has a racially disproportionate impact,” said attorney Dante Trevisani, a fellow at the Florida Justice Institute, a nonprofit civil rights law firm in Miami.
But Hans von Spakovsky, senior legal fellow at The Heritage Foundation, conservative public policy research institute, said felon disenfranchisement is not racially motivated.
“Opponents of taking away the right of felons to vote have long said that this is racially intended and has been for a long time,” he said. “We know that’s not true because, in fact, felon disenfranchisement has been going on for centuries. It was the policy of a majority of the states even before the Civil War when African Americans couldn’t vote.”
Vikki Hankins, who is black, disagrees. While she wants to give Scott the benefit of the doubt, Hankins says she feels the changes that have so far kept her from voting may be racially or politically motivated. She says she feels she shouldn’t have to keep proving herself.
“Is this some type of ploy?” she said. “You’re using people’s situations, such as mine, to ensure that a certain amount of votes do not take place … in 2012.”
But Hankins said she is determined to make it — to vote, continue her education and have a voice that is taken seriously by her legislators.
“When I’m able to vote, I (will) feel like I am a part of my community,” she said. “It’s just that simple.”
God dammit Florida.
“The New Jim Crow” by Michelle Alexander is an excellent book that talks about this issue.