In one of those daily multiple fundraising emails that fill our inboxes, Adam Schiff coined a perfect phrase. Referring to the numerous GOP nominees who are proponents of the “Big Lie” and various other conspiracy theories, he warned that many of them are poised to join “performance artists” like Marjorie Taylor Greene in the “Crackpot Caucus.”
Schiff’s point was that the growing presence of crackpots in Congress has diminished the ability of the federal legislature to do the necessary–albeit less entertaining– work of governance.
He’s right–but our current problems go far beyond the crackpots. People like Greene are embarrassments, but by and large, they are too incompetent–and too busy mugging for the cameras–to devise or pass legislation. They can and do “gum up the works,” but getting bills passed is evidently beyond them.
America’s most serious problem right now resides in other branches of government: in courts packed with partisan Trumpian know-nothings, and state administrations headed by dangerous and ambitious governors. One of the most dangerous of those governors is Trump wanna-be Ron DeSantis of Florida.
I generally try not to label unpleasant and unprincipled people “evil,” but that word does come to mind when thinking about DeSantis. His assaults on LGBTQ citizens and public school teachers, and his persistent efforts to suppress the votes of those likely to vote Democrat are egregious–and unsettlingly effective.
DeSantis most recent attack on voting rights really does merit the “evil” label.
In 2020, Gov. Ron DeSantis bragged that Florida’s elections were the “gold standard.” That was an exaggeration, but he was right in one sense: the elections there, as in the rest of the country, were secure and not marred by fraud.
That left DeSantis with a dilemma in his shadow race against Donald Trump for the GOP presidential nomination. How to prove that he, too, could recklessly undermine democracy? His answer was an election crimes police squad, announced last year to great fanfare.Did it discover Italian spy satellites switching votes? Dominion machines using ballots made in China? Bushels of ballots?
No — it discovered voters caught in the act of voting.
Rather than identifying some shadowy network of deep state operatives, state election police have found a tiny handful of people, many of whom were themselves victims of government incompetence.
Here’s the story:
As many of you probably read at the time, in 2018, by a very substantial margin, Florida voters amended the state’s Constitution. They ended a felony disenfranchisement system that had been characterized as a notorious remnant of Jim Crow. That system barred people who had a felony conviction from voting for the rest of their lives. The system had kept 1.7 million otherwise eligible people from voting.
Then the Florida Legislature stepped in. It undermined the law, requiring citizens who had just had their rights restored to pay off fines and fees before voting.
The Brennan Center sued, warning that the new requirement would lead to chaos, because the state provided no way for people to check to see if they had unpaid fees and so were eligible to vote.
The experience of Kelvin Bolton illustrates the consequences.
In 2018, after Floridians overwhelmingly approved a ballot initiative to restore voting rights to most people with past convictions, the Alachua County Supervisor of Elections sent officials to county jail to help inmates register for the next election. Kelvin Bolton proudly signed up along with other people in exactly the same situation. According to Bolton, the officials failed to tell him about the requirement that he pay outstanding fines and fees.
Even if Bolton had known, there was very little he could have done. There is no centralized database you can use, no number you can call, to find out whether there are outstanding fees. Here’s an indication of how maddening the process is: When the Brennan Center was developing a resource for people attempting to restore their voting rights, we quickly determined that it had to be aimed at lawyers. No layperson could reliably navigate this Kafkaesque labyrinth. And yet, DeSantis and his election police apparently take the position that formerly incarcerated Floridians vote at their own risk.
Under DeSantis, Florida adamantly refuses to help these ex-offenders. The state allows people with felony convictions to register, then prosecutes them if it finds outstanding court debts.
Worse, Florida once again imprisons people –at considerable taxpayer expense– who were only attempting to cast a vote, a practice that intimidates and deters eligible voters who fear that the election police will come for them, too.
“All in the name of proving that there is in fact fraud happening, to give credibility to those who have staked their political careers on its existence.”
Florida under DeSantis: Even worse than the crackpot caucus.