Florida's law denying the right to vote to anyone ever convicted of a felony is racist. Full stop. It was passed in 1868 by white-supremacist lawmakers enraged at the 14th Amendment, knowing full well that a crooked criminal justice system would ensure far more blacks than whites would be stamped with lifetime voting bans. And it's been kept in place by craven politicians who benefit when minorities are denied the most basic right of casting a vote.
Florida voters will now have a chance to right that 150-year-old wrong. A statewide question on this November's ballot will ask whether to eliminate the lifetime voting ban on felons after elections officials confirmed today that activists had gathered more than the required 766,000 valid signatures.
“Voters took matters in their own hands to ensure that their fellow Floridians, family members, and friends who’ve made past mistakes, served their time, and paid their debts to society are given a second chance and the opportunity to earn back their ability to vote,” Desmond Meade, chair of Floridians for a Fair Democracy, says in a news release.
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.
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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.
“People believe in forgiveness, redemption, restoration, and, ultimately, second chances," says Ash Mason, chairman of the Christian Coalition of Florida. "It is why voters from all corners of the state and all walks of life — including religious groups and people working to build stronger communities — support the Voting Restoration Amendment. It’s simply the right thing to do.”
Florida's voting ban is racist. Voters can finally kill it in November. We'll see if they actually step up and do the right thing.