The people have spoken

“These restrictions are not required by the plain language of Amendment 4. Nor are these restrictions what a supermajority of voters contemplated when they voted Yes on Amendment 4.” – American Civil Liberties Union (Florida)

Florida law formerly prohibited convicted felons from voting for life affecting an estimated 1.6 million Floridians. On Nov. 18, 2018, Floridians voted almost 2 to 1 to amend the Florida Constitution to rescind the ban (with a few notable exceptions, like murderers and sex offenders). The change took effect 1-8-19. 

Florida voters have clearly spoken regarding reintegrating these individuals once they have paid their debt to society. There is absolutely no reason why these citizens should not be immediately registered. However, the newly elected Governor and other GOP big wigs have been purposefully attempting to delay implementation (per the “legislative action’” they say is needed). The Governor is about to sign Senate Bill 7066, a party-line vote bill violating the spirit of Amendment 4. SB 7066 will force former felons to fulfill all financial obligations before they can get the right to vote restored.

If we look at partisan politics, it’s obvious why the GOP went this route.

 A major Florida newspaper recently ran a survey of the political affiliation of those being added to the voting roles as a consequence of Amendment 4, finding: “More than half of those who lost their voting rights, 52 percent, were Democrats … 33 percent were independents … 14 percent were Republicans. By comparison, Democrats make up 37 percent of all voters in Florida, Republicans make up 35 percent.”

Over 21% of African-Americans of voting age in Florida were disenfranchised before the Amendment passed. Frankly, as a former Republican County Commission Chair in a rural Georgia County, I understand why DeSantis and the others in the Florida legislature are worried. They have played the race card for years and now it is clearly going to come back and bite them in 2020.

But, understanding why they are worried and supporting their actions are quite different. We should all be 100% against their stalling, which is yet another example of un-American, unconstitutional voter suppression of minorities. 

Frankly, America’s low voting rates are an embarrassment when compared to other democracies. Further, the misleading and clearly incorrect statements (unsubstantiated voter fraud and the like) by our elected officials at all levels to justify this horrible situation are equally embarrassing.

Ideally, we are supposed to be a fair, unbiased nation which encourages all of its citizens to vote, regardless of party affiliation. Actions like those of DeSantis and his ilk betray our cherished ideals, as do obvious attempts by both parties to gerrymander voting districts. I know; gerrymandering by a political opponent is the reason I left office after two terms. My district looked like a horseshoe.

The effort to obtain approval of Amendment 4 should not have been a partisan effort, but it clearly was. The GOP putting financial hurdles in the way of voting is just a updated 2019 poll tax.

It’s time for the GOP in Florida and other states to wake up and look beyond short-term politics. Otherwise, with the rapidly changing demographics in states like Florida, Texas and Georgia, the GOP is in danger of becoming a permanent minority party.


Image: the photo of Ms. Piggy (aka: Disney - A Salute To All Nations But Mostly America) was taken by Joe Penniston (flickr/CC).

Jack Bernard

Jack Bernard

Jack A Bernard is a retired SVP with a national healthcare corporation. He was Chair of the Jasper County, Ga Board of Commissioners and Republican Party. He was also on the Board of Health for Jasper County and is currently on the Fayette County BOH. Bernard has over 100 columns published annually, primarily in the South.