ex-felon, voting
Photo credit: Michael Fleshman / Flickr (CC BY-SA 2.0).

A perfect example of modern-day voter suppression on a massive scale is currently on display in Florida… as is the cynicism of politicians, like Gov. Ron DeSantis (R-FL), who are trying to undermine democracy.

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The concept of modern-day voter suppression is difficult to grasp for many Americans. Back in high school, they might have learned about poll taxes or Jim Crow laws that made it difficult for African Americans to vote… even after a civil war was fought over the issue and constitutional amendments had passed.

And it is true that some of the most blatant examples of voter suppression are no longer in existence. However, hidden voter suppression is very much still being practiced in every state in the South as well as plenty of others that are currently controlled by Republicans.

Closing polling locations and making some people stand in unnecessarily long lines is a form of voter suppression that targets people who do not have the luxury of waiting for an hour to cast a ballot. Perhaps they can’t afford a babysitter or they have to run from their second to their third job.

Eliminating alternatives to Election Day voting is a form of voter suppression. So are selective purges of voter rolls or making voters jump through extra hoops to register. In fact, not having automatic voter registration is a form of voter suppression in itself, as is maintaining the silly tradition that elections are held on Tuesdays and not on the weekend.

A perfect example of modern-day voter suppression on a massive scale is currently on display in Florida… as is the cynicism of politicians, like Gov. Ron DeSantis (R-FL), who are trying to undermine democracy.

Here is the bottom line: Even in a deeply divided political climate, a large majority of Floridians wants most former felons to have their voting rights restored. They feel so strongly about this that they passed Amendment 4, the Voting Rights Restoration for Felons Initiative, in 2018.

Florida Republicans, on the other hand, do not want this to happen. It’s easy to see why. A disproportionate number of these former felons are Black, and likely won’t vote for the GOP.

Therefore, over the past five years, these Republicans, led by DeSantis, have worked hard to subvert the will of the voters. And — this is where the cynicism comes in — they have done so while claiming all of this is done in the name of “election integrity.”

Time and again, GOP lawmakers have gone to great lengths to undermine the intent of that voting rights amendment.

One of these efforts is particularly insidious.

By erecting many administrative barriers, Florida Republicans have made it incredibly difficult for former felons to figure out whether they are once again eligible to vote.

Now, keep in mind that nearly two-thirds of Floridians voted in favor of restoring their rights. They did not vote in favor of making it nearly impossible for former felons to figure out whether they could legally cast a ballot or would risk being sent back to prison for doing so.

But that is precisely the situation that DeSantis and his anti-democracy goons have created.

Even worse, the governor then sicced the cops on a few poor former felons who had not jumped through all the hoops Republican officials had set up. Instead, fully believing that they were eligible (since this was the will of Floridians), they had committed the crime of voting.

DeSantis’s raids, conducted under the guise of maintaining “election integrity,” only had one purpose: to scare the more than 1 million former felons into not voting. After all, who would risk going back to prison just to cast one ballot?

That is what modern-day voter suppression looks like.

Now, actual voting rights advocates are trying to do something about it.

One Wednesday, the Florida Rights Restoration Coalition (FRRC) filed a federal lawsuit against DeSantis and other Sunshine State officials. It alleges that, instead of simply enacting the amendment Floridians had voted for, they intentionally created a bureaucratic maze to keep former felons from voting.

In addition, the lawsuit alleges that those high-profile raids DeSantis touted constitute an illegal intimidation of voters under the Voting Rights Act.

“Ever since the people of Florida passed a constitutional amendment to grant people with felony convictions a new right to vote, the governor and the state have done everything in their power to prevent those 1.4 million new voters from actually voting,” said Carey Dunne, the founder of the Free and Fair Litigation Group, which is a nonprofit law firm fighting the rise of authoritarianism in the US.

To anybody who knows anything about this issue, this case is clear-cut. Everybody knows what Florida Republicans did and why.

However, that does not mean that the Florida voters will prevail in court. Because it is not just democracy that is in trouble in the US but also justice.

And, if this case ever appears before this Supreme Court, which has a history of undermining the Voting Rights Act, then all bets are off as to whether justice will prevail or if we will be looking at a new wave of government-sanctioned voter suppression.



  • Klaus Marre

    Klaus Marre is a writer, editor, former congressional reporter, and director of the WhoWhatWhy Mentor Apprentice Program. Follow him on Twitter @KlausMarre.

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