Marsha Ellison, a South Florida and statewide NAACP leader, said on Wednesday that current state policies on civil and voting rights from Gov. Ron DeSantis’ administration are “atrocious and quite frankly racist.”
Ellison objected to efforts by the state’s government to slow down the process of restoring voting rights for 1.7 million ex-felons, a policy that Florida voters mandated in a 2018 amendment.
“Felony disenfranchisement was put in place 150 years ago, strictly born out of racism. This administration apparently intends to let that system remain. I could see how that might work for him, quite frankly it doesn’t work for us in the black community,” Ellison said, referring to DeSantis and his administration.
She continued, “Any black and brown citizens, once you’ve paid your debt to society you deserve and should be restored to first-class citizenship. The NAACP finds the current administration efforts atrocious and quite frankly racist.”
Ellison, who serves as president of the Fort Lauderdale/Broward branch of the NAACP, and is the civic engagement chairwoman for the Florida State NAACP, said the organization has “worked with every administration in some way or another with the exception of this one who is determined and wants to make sure that particularly African Americans continue to be disenfranchised.”
Meanwhile, Helen Ferre, the governor’s communications director, said by email the “accusations are absurd.”
“Gov. DeSantis’ leadership demonstrates that he is a principled leader who works with all regardless of race, creed, or ethnicity,” Ferre explained. “Gov. DeSantis is undaunted in the face of political rhetoric that is divisive and elusive of the truth.
Ellison made the comments in a video news conference that was organized by state Democratic Agriculture Commissioner Nikki Fried, who has also been a vocal critic of DeSantis recently.
The governor appointed Ellison last January to a statewide committee that was tasked with encouraging widespread participation in the 2020 Census. Two years ago, she supported Andrew Gillum, the Democratic candidate who lost the governor’s race to DeSantis.
Ferre added that DeSantis’ record includes voting to pardon the Groveland Four, a group of black men who were accused of raping a white woman in 1949, as well as appointing diverse judges to the state’s courts, appointing large numbers of Hispanics and African Americans, and most recently, arranging coronavirus testing in underserved communities.
“At a time when we need to show empathy and understanding with black Floridians, the governor instead fights to block civil rights and send in the National Guard,” Fried said.
Thank you @JoseJavierJJR, @RepBobbyDuBose, @traciedavisjax, @FentriceForFL, and @NAACP's @MarshaAEllison1 for joining me in a much-needed conversation on restoring civil and voting rights to Floridians.
Together we will fix Florida’s crushingly restrictive Clemency rules.
— Commissioner Nikki Fried (@NikkiFriedFL) June 10, 2020
DeSantis recently activated members of the National Guard to assist law enforcement in Florida with controlling protests spurred by the killing of George Floyd.
Fried said that Democrats and Republicans share responsibility for the “systemic built-in racial divide [that] has happened since slaves were first brought here from Africa. And every step along the way, and this is from both parties, and both parties have messed this up.”
Fried, Ellison and several other Democratic state legislators who appeared in Wednesday’s video meeting object to the state appealing a federal court ruling that says the state cannot prevent ex-felons from voting if they are unable to pay fines and fees.
The state had imposed the payment requirement last year, after voters passed the constitutional amendment restoring voting rights to former felons except murderers and sex offenders.
“Quite frankly, we are done dying. We deserve opportunity to participate, to make sure that we vote for the candidate of our choice,” Ellison said. “The NAACP is ready and will continue to fight this. This is strictly a matter of racism when it comes to our people and we won’t stand for it anymore.”
Ellison added that getting ex-felons back on the voting rolls could make a difference in the election.
“We certainly know that hundreds of thousands of African Americans casting their ballot for the candidate of their choice would certainly make a difference and would be a game changer in this election,” she said.
In addition, Democratic State Rep. Bobby DuBose, of Fort Lauderdale, said, “What’s going on in America and what’s happening to black and brown people … one of the things that we really need to see and hear is our white allies having these conversations because we have them every day in the black community.”