DeSantis Really Doesn’t Want Ex-Felons to Vote. It’s Not Because So Many Are Black, Is It?

Gov. Ron DeSantis at a news conference in Tallahassee on May 13, 2020. During the conference, DeSantis said he would welcome professional sports playing in the state. [Florida Channel]

By the Miami Herald Editorial Board – Sunday, a federal judge restored the hard-fought, hard-won voting rights of 1.4 million ex-felons in Florida.

Tuesday, a relentless Gov. DeSantis announced that he would appeal, again.

In Florida, denying former inmates their right to vote is tradition, rooted in racism and the enduring quest for political power. They form a too-powerful combination that long predates DeSantis’ time as governor. At the same time, he’s denying the resolute will of Florida voters who, in 2018, approved Amendment 4, which automatically restores ex-felons’ voting rights.

So it is doubly shameful that he, relatively progressive in other areas of governance, holds fast to this hideous Jim Crow holdover.

U.S. District Judge Robert Hinkle ruled unconstitutional a state law that denies people convicted of felonies, and who have served their time, the right to vote if they can’t afford to pay court fines and restitution to victims.

Don’t be naive. Denying this right disproportionately impacts poorer African Americans and Hispanics, often trapped in a dysfunctional justice system that routinely imposes harsher punishments on them for nonviolent crimes.

This would prevent many of them from voting in the 2020 elections. And that’s the goal, twisted and un-American as it is. Republicans have long fought restoring their right to vote because they assume this demographic would vote Democratic. Of course, if they stopped trying to block them from the ballot box, they might find these new voters less predictable, less knee-jerk than are these elected GOP officials themselves.

Hinkle said Florida Senate Bill 7066, the crux of the federal lawsuit by ex-felons and others, created a “pay-to-vote system.” He wrote that court fees are essentially a tax that creates a whole new process for determining whether felons are eligible to vote.

The judge did right by voters and, especially, ex-felons, who should have every avenue possible back to full citizenship. DeSantis should reconsider and do the same. Our expectations are low, however, given that he must secure this purple swing state for his handler, President Trump. That’s why DeSantis, his predecessor Rick Scott and the members of cabinets slow-walk restoring ex-felons’ rights when acting as the Clemency Board, despite court rulings that it’s an unfair system. That’s why, in the past, early-voting sites have been limited. That’s why the state hasn’t made much of a move to protect our ballots, as election supervisors across the state have requested.

Tellingly, the governor wasted no time, not even 48 hours, in popping the celebratory balloon. DeSantis on Tuesday said the state will likely appeal Hinkle’s order, plotting the path for the case to go all the way to U.S. Supreme Court.

Republicans never liked Amendment 4, generated by a petition drive. And Hinkle was appointed by Bill Clinton.

Amendment 4 grants ex-felons who completed “all terms of their sentence including parole or probation.” But the definition of “all terms” was not defined in the amendment, and Republicans jumped on that gray area.

So began the despicable war on this constitutional amendment. Last spring, the Legislature passed, and DeSantis gladly signed, Senate Bill 7066, requiring that voter-registration officials receive proof that ex-felons have paid all fines, fees and restitution as a condition of issuing them a voter’s card.

Unfortunately, DeSantis is sending a clear message: the will of the people be damned.

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