Opinion: Disenfranchisement Is The Real Crime

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Voting machines in Florida (Photo by Joe Raedle/Getty Images)

Voting machines in Florida (Photo by Joe Raedle/Getty Images)

The Buck Starts Here

The modern, coordinated move by Republicans to suppress the vote, primarily of minority voters, is rooted in another dark chapter of American history.

The path that the New Suppressionists have chosen to follow was blazed by Jim Crow predecessors who, likewise, created a network of laws intended to block minorities from the polling place.

Today a set of Jim Crow voter suppression laws remain on the books: the felony disenfranchisement.

Written in the 1860s and 1870s, felony disenfranchisement laws were written to keep newly freed slaves from voting. Some of those laws remain on the books today.

Felony disenfranchisement laws grew from the pressure to count released slaves in the census while retaining the slavery era power structure; gaining representation in Washington by increasing population while blocking blacks from the ballot box.

In 2007, Republican Florida Governor Charlie Christ took steps to fix Florida’s injustice. The state had remained one of the most restrictive states, forcing felons to go through a lengthy process to regain their right to vote.

At the time, Gov. Christ said, “Like Florida, many Southern states struggling through the Jim Crow era resisted calls to change their laws denying the restoration of civil rights. Since then, all but five of these states have realized the historical underpinning for denying the restoration of civil rights and repealed these unjust laws.”

“Some who favor the current system argue that restoring civil rights is somehow ‘weak on crime,’ as if restoring the right to vote, to serve on a jury or to work lessens the punishment or encourages a person to commit new crimes. In fact, the opposite should be true. Giving a person a meaningful way to re-enter society, make a living and participate in our democracy will incentivize good behavior,” he added.

Four years later, another Republican Governor, Rick Scott, and three other members of the state’s executive clemency board met in secret and voted to roll back rights the rights his predecessor had worked restore.

Florida rejoined Virginia, Kentucky and Iowa, as states which freed felons are required to apply for restored rights.

Today, more than one in ten Floridians is barred from voting as a result.

The United States has the largest prison population of any country for which reliable figures exist and according to the Brennan Center 5.3 million Americans cannot vote because of felony restrictions. Of that group four million are out of prison, working and paying taxes but barred from voting.

For a brief time, there was some momentum to address this structural inequity.

For now, those days are over.

It is not coincidental that Governor Rick Scott’s top priority in Florida is taking minority voters off the voting rolls. It is a Grand Tradition of the Grand Old Party and the reason we have the Voting Rights Act that some Republicans want to repeal.

About Bill Buck

Bill Buck is a Democratic strategist, President of the Buck Communications Group, a media relations and new media strategies consulting business based in Washington, DC, and Managing Director of the online ad firm Influence DSP. He has over twenty years of international and national communications experience. The views and opinions expressed in this post are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the official policy or position of CBS Local.

 

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