Michigan and Wisconsin Republicans are doing their best to kneecap incoming Democratic governors and state officials with lame-duck laws. Now Florida Republicans, even though they maintained control of the governorship and state legislature, are trying to subvert a clear election result that they fear could result in bad news for them in future elections.
A month after Florida voters approved a measure to restore the franchise to about 1.4 million former felons—the largest expansion of voting rights in decades—a battle over implementing that change is already beginning.
The state’s Republican elections chief is resisting swift implementation of the measure, which was approved by nearly 65 percent of Florida voters on November 6 and is scheduled to take effect on January 8. He’s asking the state Legislature, dominated by Republicans, to interpret the ballot initiative. As a result, the dismantling of one of the harshest disenfranchisement schemes in the country could be subject to delays, confusion, and lawsuits.
To those who crafted Amendment 4, the ballot language was straightforward. It read, “This amendment restores the voting rights of Floridians with felony convictions after they complete all terms of their sentence including parole or probation.” It stipulated an exception for people convicted of murder or a sexual offense.
“On January 8, anybody who has completed the terms of their sentence for an offense other than murder or felony sexual assault had their rights restored by the voters on Election Day,” said Howard Simon, who as director of the Florida ACLU helped craft and shepherd Amendment 4 to passage. But Simon, who retired last week after 21 years leading the Florida ACLU, predicted that there might be trouble ahead. “I’m not naive,” he said in an interview with Mother Jones on the day he stepped down. He predicted that the state Legislature, which does not convene until March 5, might try to muddy the waters. Legislation could bog down rights restoration or sow enough confusion that some ex-felons are deterred from registering.
Gee, what a shock… not that they’re doing this, but that it’s taken them more than a month to rear up on their hind legs and say “Hey, the language in the amendment isn’t clear.” Which is cynically funny since the Republicans are famous for crafting ballot measures and amendments that read like one of those software user agreements you click through on your way to download an app.
But they know that the majority of people affected by this amendment are minorities who, in their mind, don’t deserve to vote regardless of their record, and that if they are given back their constitutional rights, will vote for the other guys.
So here we go again.