In 2007 Charlie Crist, the then Republican governor of Florida, astonished political friend and foe alike by putting a stop to what he saw as the state’s iniquitous practice of withholding the vote from released prisoners. He announced that non-violent former felons who had done their time would automatically have their right to vote restored to them. It was no small affair. In Florida, 1.3 million people have prior felony convictions, making this a very sizeable chunk of a total eligible electorate of 11 million. Former felons are disproportionately drawn from poor and minority communities, and as such, if they vote at all, they tend to lean Democratic, making the decision by a Republican governor all the more remarkable. But it didn’t last long. Four years later, Crist’s successor as governor, the Tea Party favourite Rick Scott, made a point of reversing the decision. That could prove crucial on 4 November for Florida’s GOP candidates, not least for Scott himself, who is in a bitter fight for re-election, with polls putting him neck-and-neck with his challenger – none other than Charlie Crist, now standing as a Democrat.
The Scott versus Crist race is perhaps the most glaring example of a nationwide trend that is bearing down on the midterm elections, now just two weeks away. Over the past four years, Republican leaders have exposed themselves to the charge of conflict of interest by introducing a raft of restrictive voting rules across 22 states, placing hurdles in the way of would-be voters, particularly from Democratic-leaning backgrounds.
“A lot of people are not going to be able to vote in this election because of Rick Scott,” said Katherine Culliton-Gonzalez, director of voter protection for the national racial justice group the Advancement Project. “We’ve seen time and time again instances of politicians implementing changes to the voting rules for their own political gain. There’s something wrong about that.”