Friday, March 11, 2011

Voting Rights and Wrongs

Gov. Rick Scott (R-FL) has imposed strict standards for felons regaining the right to vote in Florida.

The Florida constitution denies the right to vote for life to anyone with a felony conviction, unless he is granted clemency by the governor. Essentially it gives the governor, an elected official, the power to decide who will (or won’t) be allowed to vote in the next election.

The new clemency rules not only roll back reforms passed by former Governor Charlie Crist, they are far more restrictive than those in place under former Governor Jeb Bush.


Several times during the brief public meeting yesterday, Governor Scott and Attorney General Pam Bondi referred to voting as “privilege” that should be “earned.” But the right to vote is not something to be kept in the Governor’s pocket, handed out only as a special treat to his favorite Floridians.

This fits into a pattern that the Republicans are following across the country. We are seeing more challenges to the right to vote. In New Hampshire, for instance, one state representative wants to restrict the rights of college students from voting in the town where they are going to college, going so far as to suggest that the student can’t register to vote unless his or her parents are registered to vote there, too. There have also been moves afoot in places like Texas to require draconian proofs of identification unless you were born before 1931 or have a concealed-gun permit. (They are silent on what happens if you are both 80 and are packing heat.) Their explanation is that they want to be sure that only those who vote do so without committing fraud. But what they’re really doing is making it as hard for as many people to vote as possible.

There are two reasons for this. The first is that they know that the more people vote, the more the Republicans lose. The largest increase in voter registrations during the 2008 election was among younger voters and Hispanics. The GOP believes that those groups tend to vote for Democrats, and they know that if that trend continues, they will lose at the polls: the more people who vote, the worse it is for the Republicans. Maybe it has something to do with the fact that the GOP has been seen as hostile to younger and minority voters. Ya think?

It also has to do with the mindset that Mr. Scott stated: voting is a privilege that must be earned. It’s not surprising hearing him say that; rich white men have that sense of entitlement, and it took constitutional amendments to make sure that people other than the rich white patriarchs were assured of the right to vote. And that’s why it’s not a surprise to see him doing everything he can to try to make sure that only the right people vote.