“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)

The U.S. 11th Circuit Court of Appeals got Florida’s case to decide the legality of adding on financial requirements (poll taxes) not referred to or required by Amendment 4. Recently, the Court of Appeals in Atlanta found that Florida unconstitutionally prohibited the voting rights of former felons who could not pay court fines/fees. This ruling may have a major effect on which party wins the 2020 Presidential election.

Before 2018, Florida law 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). 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. 

The change was to take effect 1-8-19, at least in theory. However, newly elected Governor DeSantis and other GOP big wigs have purposefully delayed implementation (per the “legislative action’” they dubiously claim is needed). Thus, the Governor signed SB 7066, a party-line vote bill violating the spirit of Amendment 4. Senate Bill 7066 forces former felons, many indigents, to fulfill all financial obligations before they can get their right to vote restored. It has been estimated that 80% of felons have such obligations. Since then, implementation of Florida’s Constitutional Amendment 4 had been tied up in the state and federal courts (and the case may yet go to the Supreme Court).

If we look at partisan politics, it’s obvious why the GOP went this route, taking the low road. Vox looked at 2016 Florida election data and issued a report in Nov. 2018: “Had all ex-felons been eligible to vote in Florida in 2016, we estimate that this would have generated about 102,000 additional votes for Democrats and about 54,000 additional votes for Republicans, with about an additional 40,000 votes that could be cast on behalf of either party.”

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 despicable, 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, undemocratic and unworthy of our elected officials. These officials simply want to discourage voting by non-whites and the poor.

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 on the state level is the reason I left office after two terms. My district looked like a horseshoe, splitting my suburban community in two while adding a majority of rural voters.

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 an unconstitutional updated 2019 poll tax. Hopefully, when this case eventually reaches the Supreme Court, SCOTUS will do the right thing. But, with 4 right-wing members having been appointed by Republicans who lost the popular vote in their own elections, that’s not a given.

It’s time for the GOP in Florida and other states to wake up. Look beyond short-term interest group politics and to your future. Now, before lasting damage is done to your brand. Otherwise, with the rapidly changing demographics in states like Florida, Texas and Georgia, the GOP is in danger of becoming a permanent minority party within the next few decades.

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Feature Image Credit: Disney - Dumbo the Flying Elephant photo by Joe Penniston (Flickr/Creative Commons) – Dumbo color added by the LikeTheDew.com.

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.