Attorney General Eric Holder says the U.S. Justice Department will move aggressively to review the plethora of new voting laws that state legislatures across the nation have passed in recent years to exclude minority voters. Get to it, Mr. Holder.
There is no better place to start than in Florida where picking and choosing voters has become a high art and low crime. And it is not just minority voters who face these new hurdles but young voters, voters who have moved into new precincts, voters whose interest in politics is newly awakened. In short, voters who aren’t part of a tightly knit group that can be counted on for party-line (dare we say, Republican) ballots in a state where Democrats outnumber GOP registered voters.
Consider the issue of restoring civil rights, including the right to vote, to people who have completed their sentences on felony convictions. Not a popular bunch, not a group easy to defend. Yet, these are people who have paid the debt demanded of them by society, and it’s in society’s best interest to give them a stake in the future of their communities.
Until 2007, Florida required ex-felons to apply and have a hearing before the state Board of Executive Clemency (the Cabinet wearing another hat). That process was so time-consuming and so poorly staffed that the backlog of applications grew to nearly 98,000.
These were people who had made great effort to try to regain their civil rights as Americans. Many were people who had made bad mistakes while young and were being good citizens but without the rights of citizenship — the most precious right in a democracy, the right to the vote.
The backlog was such a scandal that then-Gov. Charlie Crist, at the time a Republican, and the clemency board approved automatic restoration of rights for people who had finished sentences for nonviolent crimes. Those who had been convicted of more severe crimes had to continue to apply and have hearings before the board. That was a balanced and measured approach although “automatic” still required a time-consuming review, resulting in another backlog.
In March, under Gov. Rick Scott, the board was handed a 24-page proposal, heard an hour of testimony and voted to roll back the reform. So Florida joins just three other states (Iowa, Kentucky and Virginia) in its harsh treatment of ex-felons.