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After Weeks of Massive Marches for Black Justice, Supreme Court Lets Florida Jim Crow Disenfranchisement Law Stand, Which Will Assist Trump in Key 2020 State

A July 16 Supreme Court refusal to grant Florida felons no longer on probation or parole the right to vote without paying fees, fines and restitution associated with their imprisonment may have a direct impact on assisting Donald Trump in his efforts to win the pivotal state.

After all, in 2000, George W. Bush “won” the state, in the absence of a recount that would have likely found Al Gore to be the winner by 537 votes, which the Supreme Court recognized in a partisan 5-4 decision declaring Bush the winner.

One of the issues that allowed Bush to reduce Gore’s votes was a purge of largely Black voters by a firm then called Choicepoint. In addition, Florida, at that time, denied the restoration of voting, a legacy of the Jim Crow era, to an estimated 750,000 to a million or more felons with a very large percentage being Black and Brown.

This policy dates back to the beginning of the Jim Crow era, according to The Washington Post:

In 1868, Florida’s white elites faced a threat every bit as grave as the Civil War that had ended in Confederate defeat three years earlier. Congress had just forced Florida to rewrite its constitution to allow every man the right to vote. But adding thousands of newly eligible black residents to the rolls would abruptly make whites a voting minority.

The old guard’s only hope was to somehow ban black voters without violating Reconstruction acts passed by Congress after the Civil War. Huddled in Tallahassee backrooms throughout that cool January, they found just the ticket: a lifetime voting ban on anyone with a felony conviction. Combined with postwar laws that made it easy to saddle black residents with criminal records, legislators knew they could suppress black votes indefinitely.

Florida was not alone, as Facing South notes of the felons who can’t vote in Alabama because they can’t pay money they owe the state:

Robert Peoples is just one among hundreds of thousands of people who Alabama has stripped of voting rights, and among tens of thousands that the state now says need to pay up if they ever want to cast a ballot. According to the most recent data from The Sentencing Project, more than 286,000 Alabamians have been told that they cannot vote because of past felony convictions. This number accounts for 7.6% of Alabama's entire otherwise-qualified voting population, and it includes 15.1% of the state's African American population.

Just as in Florida, the origin of a felon ban is white supremacy and suppressing the Black vote to help ensure the election of white office holders. Facing South explains,

Alabama didn't get here overnight. The state's systematic use of felony convictions as a vehicle for disenfranchising voters en masse — particularly African American voters — has a long history. In 1901, Alabama held a constitutional convention that produced the document, which (in amended form) still governs the state today.

"[W]hat is it that we want to do?" the president of the convention asked the delegates in his opening address. "Why, it is, within limits imposed by the Federal Constitution, to establish white supremacy in this State."

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In 2017, the Alabama legislature allowed for a restoration of felon rights, but only after payment of fees.

That leads us to the Supreme Court decision, which traces back to Florida Constitutional Amendment 4, passed as a citizens proposition by an overwhelming majority, 64%, in 2018 to allow felons to vote. However, the Republican state legislature was quick to pass a law that the rights would only be restored if former felons paid all debts to the state and courts. Republican Governor Ron DeSantis signed it.

At least 750,000 former felons who would be eligible, but due to the “poll tax” essentially imposed by the state Republican legislature and governor, only 85,000 have been able to register to vote because they could afford paying their fees and fines.

The requirement to pay fees, fines and restitution means that Joe Biden will likely lose perhaps several hundred thousands of votes, as Gore did in 2000. Remember, this is not purging; this is disenfranchisement written into law. Indeed, Sonia Sotomayor wrote in her dissent to the Supreme Court decision, according to USA TODAY. that,

It "prevents thousands of otherwise eligible voters from participating in Florida’s primary election simply because they are poor."

"Under this scheme, nearly a million otherwise-eligible citizens cannot vote unless they pay money," Sotomayor said, calling it a "voter paywall."

According to USA Today there are at least 750,000 (although another source indicates it is well in excess of a million) former felons who would be eligible, but due to the “poll tax” essentially imposed by the state Republican legislature and governor, only 85,000 have been able to register to vote because they could afford paying their fees and fines. In addition, it is extremely challenging for felons to even find out how much they must pay due to an often inscrutable bureaucracy.

This is racist voter suppression that is like carbon monoxide; the public hardly notices it, but it has, in various forms existed in one way or another in many states, with Florida being the most extreme up to 2016. The National Council of State Legislatures lists the various felon voting laws in chart form.

However, as noted above, in 2018, the people of Florida restored voting rights to all felons after parole and probation, only to have the law reduced to about a 10% effective rate of enfranchisement. After DeSantis signed the electorally friendly Republican law, felons contested the limitations imposed on a people-passed amendment and the case made its way through the courts. Initially a federal district court ruled against the GOP voter suppression efforts through altering the citizen initiative. Then the 11th Circuit Court of Appeals blocked that ruling, and said it would schedule a full hearing on August 18. The former felon plaintiffs appealed to the Supreme Court, which would not intervene and sent the dispute back to the Appellate Court, which practically means that once again the vast majority of former felons will not be able to vote in the November election.

Investigative Reporter Greg Palast, whom BuzzFlash has published since the theft of the 2000 election, told BuzzFlash that he laments that the Democrats as a party won’t draw more light on gross voting rights injustices such as the one that will occur in November in the Sunshine State because of a fear the Republicans will say they are defending felons.. Again, this is only one of the many voting disenfranchisement techniques employed by Republicans against people of color.

Palast also bemoaned that millions and millions of ex-felons have the right to vote in many states but don’t know about it. He calls it one of the biggest voting “cons” in America, because there are few organizations that are reaching out to felons to register in such states, although there has been activity to do so in Florida.

In the case of the Supreme Court refusing to declare the Florida laws that altered a state constitutional amendment invalid, it means Trump will begin the 2020 election in Florida up by hundreds of thousands of votes.


Buy Greg Palast’s new book, “How Trump Stole 2020” from BuzzFlash by clicking here and support

Mark Karlin