This year marks the 50th Anniversary of the Civil Rights Act, the landmark legislation that outlawed discriminatory voter registrations practices. But in Florida and Duval County, voting among minorities remains disturbingly low, say a group of local leaders and activists.
“Nearly 23 percent of the African-American population in the state of Florida can’t vote,” said organizer Angie Nixon, citing a number from The Sentencing Project, a national criminal justice research and advocacy group. “It’s very upsetting and disheartening that we have to still fight for some of the same rights that many of our grandparents were fighting for 50 years ago.”
Nixon was joined by local leaders including Florida Southern Christian Leadership Conference President Rev. R.L. Gundy and Duval County School Board Member Paula Wright outside the Supervisor of Elections Office Thursday.
The group held the rally to speak out about the obstacles that certain populations face in voting, such as convicted felons.
Restaurant owner Antonio “Duke” Sanders is among that population. He was convicted on worthless check charges four years ago.
Under Florida law, individuals convicted of most non-violent felonies can apply to have their voting rights restored after five years, which means Sanders will have to wait at least another year to be eligible.
“You feel like an outcast within your own community,” he said. “I pay taxes. I employ 25 people full-time, and between my catering staff that’s another 50 people, so that’s 75 people to which I contribute to stimulating my local economy. Yet I have no vote.”
Currently, about six percent of voters registered in Duval County have turned out for early voting or mailed in their vote for the primary elections. However, that number falls to around three percent among many of the precincts in Jacksonville’s predominantly black Urban Core, according to the Duval County Supervisor of Elections Office.
“It just seems like people don’t care or they don’t understand that our State Attorney that oftentimes they’re complaining about or the Sheriff that they’re oftentimes complaining about, you have to vote in non-presidential election [years] for that representative,” Nixon said. “It’s very important for us to educate residents and voters about the importance of voting in off years.”
Thursday, Sanders appealed to those with the ability to vote to take his place at the polls.
“Basically, I’m urging 25 people to show up to the polls and vote on my behalf, since I can’t vote myself,” he said.
The primary elections take place August 26.
You can follow Rhema Thompson on Twitter @RhemaThompson.