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The politics of restricting the vote

Practical Politics

David L. Horne, Ph.D ow contribuor | 7/3/2019, midnight

Last year, the Florida citizens voted to approve a new state Amendment Four that restored citizenship and voting rights back to former felons who had satisfied their prison sentences, and were back into society. This was a very good thing for Florida, and for any other state in that situation. This includes some four others, including Iowa, Kentucky and Virginia, where ex-felons lose the right to vote permanently once their sentences have been served. 

In eight others, including Alabama, Arizona, Delaware, Mississippi, Nevada, Tennessee and Wyoming, ex-felons get some rights back, including a limited right to vote upon complying with certain state requirements. In Florida, to be convicted and sentenced to state prison before November, 2018, had meant the loss of one’s voting rights in perpetuity.

Unfortunately, the predominantly Republican state legislature in Tallahassee, Fla., the capital, has spent most of this legislature session trying to overturn the will of the majority of Florida voters, and may have finally succeeded. Both houses of the state legislature have now passed bills to quash that state amendment, and are now sending the legislation for the governor to sign.

The governor had lobbied against Amendment Four in the state, but the popular vote was nearly 66 percent in favor. Now, with a largely Republican-backed legislature, the governor gets his wish.

This fits a pattern for Republicans in government. All over the country, they have systematically moved against voting rights for ex-felons, and for Black American and Hispanic populations. Being a Republican has come to mean one is against voting rights and for voter suppression.

Why? There seems to be a concerted belief among Republicans that the only way their party can reliably win elections is to cheat (as in partisan gerrymandering) and in reducing the number of people who can vote. One would think the courts would hold the Republicans in check, but they don’t seem to do it. Even after the State Supreme Court in Florida had held that denying former felons the right to vote was unconstitutional, the state legislature has tried to have its own way.

This is a continuation of the post-Reconstruction efforts of the Democratic Party in the South, which burned, killed and tortured citizens to keep them from voting in public elections. The new Republican Party of the South (but also in other parts of the country) is clearly no longer the party of Abraham Lincoln, but how is a healthy democracy to survive when there is this perpetual attack on the rights of citizens to vote?

One way to attack this practice is to pass Terri Sewell’s (D-Texas) legislation, H.R. 4, which is a re-writing and updating of the original 1965 Voting Rights Act. Besides pushing 2020 democratic presidential contenders to pass the H.R. 40 reparations bill, we must also insist that they pledge to pass this new voting rights legislation.

Left to themselves, Republicans in office cannot be trusted to do what is right and proper for the USA public. We must insist, and we must not give in to nonsense. American democracy must survive and it must grow---not shrink and fade away.

Florida may yet get away with its legislative chicanery. We hope not. But Thank God we live in California, for all its welts and homeless people. At least here, we know what real democracy looks like.

Professor David L. Horne is founder and executive director of PAPPEI, the Pan African Public Policy and Ethical Institute, which is a new 501(c)(3) pending community-based organization or non-governmental organization (NGO). It is the stepparent organization for the California Black Think Tank which still operates and which meets every fourth Friday.

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