Casting a vote is the most basic right in any democratic society. The entire system of government rests on the idea that every person of a legal age has a chance to make their voice heard in the distribution of power. Don't like the way things are going? Vote, you lazy bum!
Except certain politicians have always benefitted when less people come out to vote. And racists have always done their best to keep people of color away from the polls. Floridians will finally have a chance to purge one of the worst vestiges of white supremacy from state law this fall when they will decide whether to erase a 150-year-old ban preventing felons from voting, but it's worth revisiting the long, dark history of voter suppression in the state:
Florida is one of only three states — the others are Kentucky and Iowa — with lifetime bans on felons voting. There's no ambiguity about the law's origins. Florida first tried to block the 14th Amendment, which gave African-Americans full citizenship and the right to vote.
When that failed, Tallahassee's racists dreamed up two quick fixes: "educational tests," which were rigged to prevent blacks from voting, and the full ban on anyone convicted of felonies.
As governor, Charlie Crist went a long way toward dulling the racist law. Florida allows nonviolent felons to appeal for their voting rights to be restored, and Crist streamlined the process, giving the vote back to 155,000 Floridians over three years.
But to his eternal shame, Gov. Rick Scott cynically restored the roadblocks, creating a five-to-seven-year waiting period to even apply for restored rights and then granting them to only a tiny fraction of voters. In all, nearly 1.5 million residents in the state are blocked from voting — including more than one in five black voters, who are still statistically likelier to be convicted of felonies than white defendants charged with the same crime.
Scott wasn't done. In May, the Legislature passed new election requirements that can be used to prevent less-wealthy people — those who work long hours and move frequently — from voting. The law makes it tougher for get-out-the-vote groups to register new voters, requires voters to use a provisional ballot if they have moved from one county to another and not registered the address change before Election Day, and reduces the number of early voting days from 14 to eight.
The American Civil Liberties Union filed a federal lawsuit in Miami seeking to block implementation of the new law. Howard Simon, executive director of the Florida branch of the ACLU, called the law "a trifecta of voter suppression."
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When Gov. Rick Scott's administration began a statewide purge of "non-citizen" voters, it didn't seem like a coincidence that the Miami Herald found the GOP-led effort disproportionately targeted Democrats, Hispanics and independents — many of whom were in fact eligible to vote. It was also no great shock that Scott's government didn't seem too worried that their system was deeply flawed.
The Department of Justice, it seems, wasn't fooled about what was really going on, either. In a letter sent late last night — hours after a federal judge tossed some of Florida's more stringent new vote registration laws — the DOJ demanded that Florida stop the purge because it might violate the 1965 Voting Rights Act.
Here's an extremely easy way to ensure that poor, overwhelmingly Democratic voters don't make it to the polls on Election Day: withhold their food.
For some godforsaken reason, the Florida Department of Children and Families (DCF) yesterday — Election Day — handed out emergency food stamps to poor residents devastated by Hurricane Irma. This was the state's second Disaster Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (D-SNAP) food-stamp handout in Miami-Dade and Broward Counties following Irma, after the first round forced thousands of people to stand in long, sun-baked lines.