New Florida governor wants to keep people from voting as long as he can


Although Florida voters voted to immediately restore the voting rights of felons who have served their time, governor-elect Ron DeSantis is trying to slow-walk it.

Last month, Florida voters overwhelmingly approved a measure that would restore voting rights to felons once they're done serving their time, without making them wait five years to go through the complicated, and usually unsuccessful, process of applying to have their rights restored.

Nevertheless, governor-elect Ron DeSantis, who will take office next month, is trying to stall that process — and it could keep a lot of Floridians from voting in an upcoming mayoral election.

The ACLU has pointed out that the language of Amendment 4, which enshrined voter re-enfranchisement in Florida's constitution, is essentially self-implementing, meaning it could go into effect right away.

At root, it's a very simple measure: Once someone has served their sentence, they should be able to register to vote.

DeSantis, though, says he is going to wait until the 60-day Florida legislative session begins on March 5 so that the legislature can pass implementing language.

Even if the legislature were to pass the measure immediately, this foot-dragging will have the effect of preventing many people from voting in the Tampa mayoral race, which takes place on March 5.

DeSantis is perfectly willing to move quickly on things he likes, such as installing conservative justices on the Florida Supreme Court. But when it comes to strengthening democracy, he'd prefer to drag his feet.

Perhaps it is no surprise that the man who wrote a book excusing slavery and hurled racist and anti-Semitic rhetoric during his campaign would also be the person who is unwilling to restore voting rights in an expedient way.

Black people are disproportionately arrested and incarcerated, and nearly 20 percent of potential black voters in Florida have been unable to vote due to a prior conviction.

DeSantis won by less than 25,000 votes in a state where 1.5 million people were permanently disenfranchised from voting despite having served their sentences.

And DeSantis isn't the only Republican who is pretending to be confused about how this measure works.

GOP Senator Dennis Baxley said he still has questions such as whether individuals will have "complete[d]" their debt to society" and whether they have to meet probation.

Questions like that fly in the face of the simplicity of the ballot measure, which states that voting rights will be restored to all felons, save those convicted of sexual assault or murder, "after they complete all terms of their sentence including parole or probation."

The Florida legislature refused to deal with felon re-enfranchisement for decades, which is how this matter ended up on the ballot instead. Voters took measures into their own hands and emphatically declared that they wanted this to happen.

Neither DeSantis nor the rest of the Florida GOP has the right to thwart the will of the voters.

Published with permission of The American Independent Foundation.