Florida, Felons And The Franchise

According to The Guardian, voter disenfranchisement is an American tradition.

It’s hard to dispute that charge when we find ourselves in the middle of vicious–and very public– attempts to suppress the upcoming vote: an assault on both vote-by-mail and the Post Office that would deliver absentee ballots, enthusiastic and none-too-careful “purges” of state voter rolls, and of course the continued insistence that “Voter ID” documentation is needed to prevent (virtually non-existent) in-person voter fraud.

But it’s hard to beat the obscene shenanigans of the Florida GOP, which has used every mechanism in its power to defeat the expressed will of citizens who voted to return the franchise to formerly incarcerated citizens. The Guardian provided background:

Civil death is a form of punishment that extinguishes someone’s civil rights. It’s a concept that has been reshaped and reinterpreted over many generations, persisting in the form of felony disenfranchisement, through which a citizen loses their right to vote due to a felony conviction.

There are an estimated 6 million Americans who cannot vote in the country’s elections because of some form of civil death. Depending on the state they live in, they might even lose their right to vote permanently, or for years after they are released from prison. While the US has come to see this form of civil death as status quo, it is actually rare for a democratic country to take away a citizen’s voting rights after they leave prison, let alone forever. Countries like Germany and Denmark allow prisoners to vote while incarcerated, while others restore their rights immediately after release.

The US’s history of restricting the number of people who can vote in elections goes back to the colonies – and it’s a history that has disproportionately affected black people.

Why am I not surprised that this policy–like American social welfare policies–is rooted in racism?

The Guardian article proceeds to lay out the history of felon disenfranchisement, going all the way back to ancient Athens, Rome and medieval Europe and then through history, up to and including the Supreme Court’s refusal to find that either the Civil Rights Act or the 14th Amendment to the Constitution forbid the practice. The history also laid out the way in which the drug war–which Michelle Alexander showed decisively was a new form of Jim Crow–was cited to justify the disenfranchisement of formerly incarcerated individuals  who “just coincidentally” were overwhelmingly African-American.

In 2018, Florida voters passed “Amendment 4”, a measure that would restore the franchise to up to 1.4 million ex-felons. That ballot initiative, the Guardian noted, was one of the most significant voting rights victories for this population in decades.

So what happened?

Republican legislators passed a new law requiring ex-felons to pay court fines and fees in order to regain the right to vote. Critics of the law have called this payment requirement a modern-day poll tax. In July of 2020 the supreme court ruled in favor of the legislature, making it difficult for hundreds of thousands of Floridians to vote in the upcoming election.

As NPR reported last month,

The U.S. Supreme Court has left in place a lower court order that likely will prevent hundreds of thousands of felons in Florida from voting in the November election. It is the fourth time that the court has refused to intervene to protect voting rights this year.

In the wake of the George Floyd murder, white Americans have begun (belatedly) to recognize how many of our policies are motivated by racial animus–and how many of those policies end up hurting everyone, not just their intended victims.

When it comes to voting rights, the GOP’s sustained effort to depress the votes of urban dwellers, people of color and poor people is both an admission and an attack: an admission that the party cannot win “fair and square,” and an attack on the majority rule that is the essence of a democratic system.


  1. It’s getting a little tiresome to keep iterating the same obviousness of our woes: REPUBLICANS ARE COMPELLED TO LIE, CHEAT AND STEAL because they have NO policy or platform that serves democracy, the people of the United States, the Constitution or the truth. The appearance of the orange hairball as president is just the culmination of the self-destruction of the political party that put Abraham Lincoln up as their first candidate. Since then, it’s been all about serving the rich at the expense of the poor/middle class. Nothing more.

    Until they are out of our politics at every level, their menace will be with us. Even the so-called conservatives are getting screwed by their own chosen party politics. It’s a delicious irony, but never more true than now. How could anyone with a soul, a conscience and a functioning brain vote for these wretches? Has anyone listened to the traitor Ron Johnson lately?

  2. This is one I felt sure would be overturned, then Kennedy retired and Kavanaugh took his place and it seemed all hope of adherence to the Constitution was abandoned.

  3. Vernon,

    I would have to agree with every single word of your comment! I also believe that day reckoning, per your aggregate observation, (multifaceted) is on the horizon. If, and that’s a big if, the current administration is kicked to the curb during this next election, I think there’s going to be a major retribution towards the GOP! And, the howling and self-righteous indignation is going to be deafening.

    Will there have to be a bloodletting to get that ball rolling? There very well might be! I think the remainder of this year is going to cause angst the likes of which we’ve never seen in this country!

  4. The GOP as often noted here never has any worthwhile social programs or platforms. The so called conservatives in the GOP constantly have their “philosophical” objections to providing for the Commons, i.e., the Proles. The conservatives have one allegiance and that is to Steroid Crony Capitalism.

    The GOP at a voters level at best these days are low information or false information voters. Willful ignorance is not only tolerated but celebrated, how else can you explain the blind obedience to The Trumpet.

    The GOP is the party of fear- Fear is in their DNA. I suppose fear is why the Hellfire and Damnation Evangelical church goers are attracted to the GOP. The Devil is everywhere. MAGA is just a coded message for bring Jim Crow back.

    Now some of my “friends” on Face Book are tying themselves in knots, trying to prove Kamela Harris is not an American citizen – Birther 2.0.

  5. Prof. Kennedy’s blog entry is a wonderful complement to Saturday’s Letter from and American by Prof. Heather Cox Richardson, proving once again that our educators are essential workers. THANK YOU!

  6. As a voting resident of Florida, I voted with the majority to restore the voting rights of convicts only to see the Republican legislature reverse the will of the people. Republicans voted in a sort of ex post facto fsashion to require such released convicts to pay court and other costs before they could vote, requirements that were not found in the language of the issue voted on. Their fear, of course, is that the big majority of released convicts would vote Democratic. So what’s next? Shall the legislature decide that black people and slum dwellers cannot vote until they have repaid what miniature social benefits they may have garnered? Is there no end to democracy-destroying voter suppression?

    The restoration vote was meaningless. It is still the legislature (with court backing) that controls the right to vote. Disgusting, and when if ever Democrats take over the Florida governorship and legislature I hope we repeal that racist piece of trash the Republican legislature foisted off on us, restore ex-convicts’ vote, and go from there. GRRRRR!

  7. Also a Florida voter, I have learned that it is near impossible for returning prisoners to find out what taxes they owe. The record keeping has been haphazard and for most, it isn’t clear what they owe, why, and how these funds can be repaid. The state admits this.

  8. Sheila writes, “Why am I not surprised that this policy–like American social welfare policies–is rooted in racism?”

    Please tell me what isn’t “rooted in racism” in this country?

    We’ve been an Oligarchy from the beginning of our inception through today. Rule by our inferiors subject to bribes by Oligarchs. The working classes have been oppressed from day one fighting for protections against their masters. Why have our masters worked through both parties to eliminate unions?

    Look at Howard Zinn’s accounting of history. Women today who support Trump have to be beyond ignorant of their own history and in denial over Trump’s history. There are even black women who support Trump. They must be getting paid by one of Trump’s enterprises to withstand the onslaught of GOP racism.

    However, who pushed through the Welfare Reform Act in this country cutting food programs for felons?

    Bill Clinton, the prince of the DNC.

    Here’s the deal: Both capitalists owned parties in this country accept bribes, yet write policies and laws for our country. Since they are bribed, officials, anything coming from their original sin is fruit from a poisoned tree.

    Nothing good can come from either political party because they are already thieves and lawbreakers, though they don’t think so, and the media doesn’t shine that light on them daily to the point that the people wake up to our flawed and corrupt political system.

    Who are they to be writing laws and policies for others? If we had a justice-centered legal system in this country, our political class would all be serving time for accepting bribes and kickbacks for their crimes.

    The peddling of American Exceptionalism should also be a crime, but instead, it’s the modus operandi of our capitalist-owned media.

  9. Lebron James, the NBA basketball player, is working with a number of groups in Florida to get restitution paid for many of these felons.

  10. I will just reiterate a statement I made in yesterday’s blog post. Like Kathy, Gerald, and so many other in this blog community and across the country, we had family go off to protect our Constitution from enemies foreign and domestic, to protect our civic and civil rights, voting being at the top! Like Gerald Stinson often states: “I didn’t go off to the South Pacific to fight Fascism just to come home and see it thrive in our own country!” Sorry to quote you Gerald, you do a much better job since you were actually there in the fight! All to say, there are times when fighting for our right to have Democracy is all we have left. The enemy, like now, give us no alternative.

    My dad served 8 years from home in both WW2 and Korea. It damaged him. He was haunted by war. He ended up taking his own life after years of hanging on by a thread. Cost? You damn right there’s a cost to protecting those humane and decent rights of humanity. So many thousands didn’t even get a chance to come home much less start a family or go to college on the GI Bill.

    So to see what is going on is, indeed, frightening, but as Kathy said in yesterday’s post, ALL of us need to show up to this fight that WE did not cause but has been brought to us by Trump, the GOP, Corporate Democrats and all the other minions of this desire to push All The People aside so that these Wall Street and Corporate aristocrats can have their own country to themselves with no adversary to worry about.

    Yes, this IS a war in every sense of the word. Trump Inc and the GOP are, without question, our DOMESTIC ENEMY. Seriously. We do not need to witness another 40 years, much less the last 3 and 1/2, to know what they are doing. It is as plain as the proverbial nose on our face. If Democracy, what’s left of it, is to be salvaged at all it must happen NOW. 4 more years of this Fascist regime would put, literally, the final nail on the coffin of Democracy. It cannot be more serious than that.

  11. NPR captured the unfathomable (some of these clueless people got good grades at top universities) incompetence of the Republican Party this morning by pointing out that, two weeks out from their convention, they still don’t have a convention plan. Apparently, rabid lying, cheating and stealing don’t build the skills needed to run either a country or a political party. Or perhaps practicing those three fundamental Republican values keep them so busy they don’t have time to get important things – like, perhaps, stopping a pandemic – done.

    Or perhaps as committed misogynists they feel that 100 years of women’s enfranchisement is enough and they must strive to get back to what God intended – let men alone call the shots. However aggressive and successful in suppressing the vote, Republicans cannot put the genie back in the bottle. Minorities in the U.S., under the age of 16, outnumber whites. Demography is inexorable.

    In previous blogs Sheila has pointed out how illiteracy in civics and the humanities impedes intelligent decision making by the electorate. As essential as they are, STEM subjects don’t help much in choosing politicians and governments and in organizing communities that work together to accomplish common goals. Until we fix that problem, I don’t see things improving greatly.

  12. I’d like to see a split-screen presentation of Cory Booker’s smiling face enthusing over the DNC convention opposite DJTrump’s sour puss pissing, moaning and orange-farting over everything.

  13. There are small businesses, large businesses and large not for profit businesses. One of the thing that small and large for profit businesses have in common is that there are two realities that make it more difficult to make more money for investors including executives (regardless of the impact on others) – competition with other large for profit businesses in the same markets and regulation. Part of the job of managing such corporations then is to reduce those obstacles. Nothing surprising about any of this.

    One of the ways to consider our government is as the largest not for profit corporation in the world that in some cases is the only business serving a market (a good example is the market for forceful imposition of what’s best for it, the military) but in other markets it’s proscribed role is to regulate in order to insure that all stakeholders (consumers, workers, investors, supply chain partners, future humans in terms of the environment, and communities) are treated with balanced regard. In exchange for this special power to regulate us and corporations we the people who are the investors who own the government’s means of production insist on special rights including documented limitations on what can be regulated (the Constitution) and our right to hire and fire the executives in the corporation.

    When looked at this perhaps unusual way the relationship between large and small for profit corporations and the government not for profit corporation becomes clearer – it’s competitive, us or you, instead of the more reasonable and realistic us and you collaboration. Like other relationships businesses maintains there is certain amount of competitive deception in all of this. No corporation would choose to appear as antagonistic to government or other competition, no, it’s much more subtle than that.

    This brings us up to the difference between Democrats and Republicans. The DNC has the simpler role as being a union of sorts for the owners of the government not for profit corporation, tax payers. The RNC is similarly the “union” but for large and small for profits in their competition to reduce or eliminate their competition with government so that they can be unrestrained in the treatment of the stakeholders in their corporations.

    I think that not only has publican sentiment on the two parties become managed by entertainment media but also the realistic missions of the two parties have become defined similarly. Democrats represent we the people, the owners of the largest not for profit corporation in the world, our government, versus Republicans who represent the other large and small for profit corporations.

    No wonder we are not speaking to each other.

  14. From: Vernon Turner-August 16, 2020 at 6:59 am

    “It’s getting a little tiresome to keep iterating the same obviousness of our woes: REPUBLICANS ARE COMPELLED TO LIE, CHEAT AND STEAL because they have NO policy or platform that serves democracy, the people of the United States, the Constitution or the truth. The appearance of the orange hairball as president is just the culmination of the self-destruction of the political party that put Abraham Lincoln up as their first candidate. Since then, it’s been all about serving the rich at the expense of the poor/middle class. Nothing more.

    “Until they are out of our politics at every level, their menace will be with us. Even the so-called conservatives are getting screwed by their own chosen party politics. It’s a delicious irony, but never more true than now. How could anyone with a soul, a conscience and a functioning brain vote for these wretches? Has anyone listened to the traitor Ron Johnson lately?’

  15. Democracy, in general, in the US is in danger – bit by bit. Yes, it’s voter suppression in its many incarnations. It’s also gerrymandering, the Electoral College, the politicization of the Supreme Court, militarization of the police, the oversize role of money in elections – not to mention outside influence.
    Mayor Pete got that reform of our democracy was a root level issue. My hope is that in all of this, democratic reform will become a high-level focus.

  16. OMG,

    Thank you for repeating my sentiment statement today. It’s just that I hate to see the most vile of human traits, greed, take down an entire nation for the lack of self-control.

  17. Pat Harris shared that Lebron James, the NBA basketball player, is working with a number of groups in Florida to get restitution paid for many of these felons. A bit of light. Are there any billionaires who could step forward and wipe out these debts, if the state of Florida could figure out what is owed?

  18. Since the U.S. Supreme Court only has time to decided about 1% of the appeals that it receives, one shouldn’t presume that the Court agrees with what Florida did.

    I see a lot of complaints about gerrymandering and demands for reform. Will there still be those demands when gerrymandering starts working in the Democrats favor? I don’t remember Hoosier Democrats having a problem with gerrymandering after they drew the lines following the 1990 census and had a majority in the House during the 1990s.

    Likewise, there may come a time when the (mostly) winner-take-all Electoral College starts working in the Democrats favor. Democrats are close to winning Texas and may also get Florida this time around. How many elections can Republicans win if they regularly lose the four biggest population states, Florida, Texas, California and New York. Then add to that the next two biggest – Illinois and Pennsylvania. The Rs have an advantage with the EC now, but they’re looking down the barrel of national irrelevancy due to the EC.

    Likewise, the

  19. You know what Bradford?
    Obviously your people we’re White! Some of mine were and are and some of mine are not. So many of mine had a part in wars to protect this country, only to return to a country that lynched and discriminated against most of them. Because obviously fighting for this country didn’t make a difference to those who decided their race was a superior one to every other race and ethnicity in this country. The young soldiers returning from the first world war just to have themselves murdered in the Tulsa race riot slaughter, but not only Tulsa, Knoxville Tennessee, New York, Chicago, you name it! It didn’t matter but those soldiers fought for this country during the first world war, or the second world war where women were told that black soldiers grow tails @midnight! And then returned only to be discriminated against and or lynched and every part of this country!

    My father who fought in Korea, and protected the commanding general while serving in the honor guard and military police, talked about how many American soldiers of African descent were murdered by Germans as they were stationed in Germany! then end up coming back to this country to face the same kind, exactly the same kind of unapologetic discrimination.

    Slavery never went away, that’s why we had Jim Crow! After all, black and brown folks were only 3/5 human! It didn’t go away with the civil Rights victories featuring scarred race war heroes such as MLK and John Lewis, and, it didn’t go away with the first Black President who was accused of being some sort of evil Foreign Manchurian candidate with an agenda, and obviously continues with the birthism tack concerning Kamala Harris! all the while having a real Manchurian/Muscovian candidate who happens to be white and is dismantling this country, it hasn’t stopped, and it will not stop! And all the lip service in the world will not change it! There would have to be a complete purging and sea change of government, and that will not happen. Because the government will never completely teach the true history of this country, and the children of those most affected will never know of the sacrifices sorrows and discriminations that their families endured! If Donald Trump had been anything other than white, he would have been stopped way before now!

  20. John Sorg, spot on. I use to volunteer at the WW 1 Museum before the pandemic and we have a whole gallery on the black experiences, including those you mentioned. It is a story that too many people are unaware of because of the “whitening” of history, then and now. My best friend is black. He was my best man at my marriage. He has taught me so much. However, growing up poor, I played in the inner city at grandmother’s house in the ghetto of Kansas City. My mother would take me to hear the great black blues and bebop musicians down at the 18th and Vine District. Leroy Searcy was a great blues pianist my mother befriended as she played piano too. Your words are gospel truth. This entire nation was built on slave labor and it is still racist to its core. Trumpism has shown just how many millions of people STILL think segregation and Jim Crow should be law!!! It’s obscene, sickening and dehumanizing.

    Thanks for sharing your story. Not sure why it is addressed to me specifically, but a story that needs to be heard in this bleeding country soon and often. Peace.

Comments are closed.