Florida Republicans snuck a provision into a bill that would block the public from tracking the state's progress in restoring voting rights.
In 2018, Florida voters overwhelmingly passed a constitutional amendment granting felons who completed their sentences the right to vote — a move that would make roughly 1.4 million new people eligible to cast ballots in the state.
But despite the fact that roughly two-thirds of voters chose to restore those rights, Republicans have been desperately trying to find ways to keep disenfranchising ex-felons — many of them black voters who overwhelmingly vote Democratic and thus could impact the GOP's stranglehold on the state.
Already, Florida Republicans have instituted what amounts to a poll tax on former felons. And now, on Tuesday, state GOP lawmakers snuck a provision into a bill that would shield the public from accessing records of how many have had their voting rights restored, according to the Daytona Beach News-Journal.
The provision was pitched as a way to keep the group from being harassed. However, it will also have the consequence of making it impossible for reporters or other members of the public from accessing data to see if felons are, in fact, having their rights restored as they should be — creating the possibility for hijinks and attempts to continue to keep them from the voting booth.
Prior to the felon reenfranchisement bill, the only way for former felons to get their voting rights back was to apply for clemency from the governor five years after completing their prison sentences.
And a review of voting records prior to the 2018 reenfranchisement law showed that then-Gov. Rick Scott — who in 2018 barely eked out a victory to ascend to the U.S. Senate — restored voting rights to Republicans and denied voting rights to a large percentage of black voters who overwhelmingly vote Democratic.
According to the report from the Palm Beach Post, Scott "restored the voting rights of twice as many whites as blacks and three times as many white men as black men," and "restored rights to a higher percentage of Republicans and a lower percentage of Democrats than any of his predecessors since 1971." Doing so likely benefitted Scott personally, as he won all of his statewide elections by 1 percentage point or less.
With the new provision, the Florida legislature passed on Tuesday, that data will now not be possible to review.
"It came out of nowhere," Barbara Petersen, who works for the government watchdog First Amendment Foundation, told the Daytona Beach News Journal of the new provision. "The Legislature doesn’t pay much attention to the consequences, intended or unintended."
Of course, the bill hasn't been signed into law yet. GOP Gov. Ron DeSantis has until May 29 to either sign or veto it, according to the Daytona Beach News Journal. But given the legislature is controlled by his own party, it's hard to envision DeSantis issuing a veto.
Soon, Republicans will be able to disenfranchise voters they feel would hurt their own electoral chances in the dark of night.
Published with permission of The American Independent Foundation.