Florida GOP pushes ugly scheme to stop black people from voting


Republicans are happy to bring back Jim Crow if it helps Trump win.

Florida Republicans are doing all they can to keep more black people in their state from voting.

In the 2018 election, Florida voters overwhelmingly passed a measure that restored voting rights to people convicted of felonies after they have served their time. It was a huge win for racial justice; because black people are arrested and jailed at a disproportionate rate, keeping former felons from voting also meant keeping nearly 20 percent of African Americans in Florida from voting.

The new law restores voting rights for nearly 1.5 million people in Florida, 418,000 of whom are black.

But now Republicans in the state legislature are attempting to trample on those rights, with a proposal that would force Americans who have served their sentences to pay back all court fines and fees before they can register to vote.

Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (D-NY) blasted the proposal as "a poll tax by any other name" — referring to Jim Crow-era laws that suppressed the votes of minorities and low-income people by charging a fee to vote.

The measure passed out of a state House committee on Tuesday, which suggests Florida Republicans are serious about overturning the will of 64.5 percent of Florida voters who backed the amendment restoring voting rights.

The bill would "nearly guarantee that people will miss election after election," Julie Ebenstein of the ACLU told NBC News. "It's an affront to the Florida voters."

If the Republicans had their way, 17.9 percent of black Floridians would still have a harder time voting — which is probably not a coincidence, since black voters have overwhelmingly supported the Democratic Party.

Republicans in Florida won their gubernatorial and U.S. Senate elections by the slimmest of margins in 2018, by 0.4 and 0.12 points respectively. The party has an incentive to do everything it can to keep nonwhite voters away from the polls.

Florida is also a key presidential battleground. In 2016, Trump defeated Hillary Clinton there by only 1.2 points. President Barack Obama won it in 2012 and 2008. He has gone from 56 percent approval in the state in 2017 to 46 percent approval in January.

Former Tallahassee mayor and 2018 senatorial candidate Andrew Gillum has just announced a voter registration group, Bring It Home Florida, aimed at defeating Trump.

"Voters were intentional — we believe in second chances. Lawmakers impeding the will of voters by putting a price on restoring civil rights is wrong & unconstitutional," Gillum wrote on Twitter, commenting on the Republican legislation. "We will not allow lawmakers to roll back progress. We must keep Florida moving forward."

Gillum narrowly lost the 2018 Florida governor's race to Ron DeSantis — who became notorious during the campaign for his many racist statements, and who has since tried to slow-walk the implementation of restoring felon voting rights.

Trump will need all the help he can get, and his fellow party members appear to understand that.

Florida Republicans, like Republicans in Michigan and Wisconsin, are disregarding the clear will of the voters in order to help their own political fortunes.

That they are doing so while playing the most virulent form of racial politics just makes matters worse.

Published with permission of The American Independent Foundation.