There is an old maxim that, "the more things change the more they stay the same."
Under the guise of preventing voter fraud, Governor Rick Scott of Florida is taking actions that will potentially impact the right of many Black people in Florida to vote and influence the outcome of the 2012 presidential election. Obviously, as Florida is the biggest swing state in the country, the stakes couldn't be higher.
Potentially abusing the law and implementing policy that may end up discriminating against black people, the Scott administration's continuing efforts to suppress minority voters harkens back to the extremist legacy of Jim Crow era politics. We thought we had seen the end of Jim Crow with the passage of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 and the Voting Rights Act of 1965 -- Federal laws passed to stop the practice of discrimination of African-Americans and subsequently other racial minorities -- however, it appears we may have been wrong.
Unfortunately, perhaps we shouldn't be surprised, as Florida has become infamous when it comes to suppressing the voting rights of Black people.
In 1865, Florida's constitution limited the right to vote to 'free white males.' However, while the 14th Amendment granted equal rights to newly emancipated slaves, Florida's powers-that-be developed apportionment practices that actually diminished Black voting power. Furthermore, in 1885, voting rights were tied to paying a poll tax, which disproportionately hurt the poorest (and overwhelmingly Black) citizens of the state and, on top of that, African Americans who attempted to register to vote were subjected to various forms of harassment and intimidation.
Fast-forwarding to 2011, Florida's legislature passed an omnibus voting bill that impacted how organizations and individuals registered their friends and neighbors to vote, along with cutting back on early voting days -- again, as it cut out the last Sunday before Election Day, this act disproportionately affected Black voters due to the tradition of African Americans voting after church, a practice which is known as 'souls to the polls.' In Florida, 54 percent of African-American voters exercised their franchise during early voting. So, perhaps it is no wonder that these laws are being challenged by civil rights and voting rights organizations.
Now, in 2012, and despite the proclamation of a 'colorblind' America, the extreme actions of the Sunshine State's Governor could systematically undermine the voting power of African American and Latino citizens. By creating his 'purge' list, Governor Scott is intending to generate a snowball effect of greater voter suppression. His actions could create an environment that challenges the rights of registered minority voters based on a growing, manufactured hysteria around voter fraud. If allowed to succeed, it will turn the clock back to a more shameful time in our great state's history.
Reverse the Purge
Rick Scott and his Secretary of State, Kurt Detzner, have moved to throw more gasoline on the fire of voter suppression by what has been criticized as racial profiling of the voter files.
And, this isn't the first time that a Republican Governor has pulled this trick in our state.
Now famous in the annals of voter suppression, some 12,000 lawful voters were erroneously identified as ineligible to vote and purged from the voter role in the year 2000, with AfricanAmericans accounting for 41 percent of citizens stripped of their rights. Also, in the year 2000, George W. Bush was declared the winner of the presidency over Al Gore by a mere 537 votes, which means, well, you do the math...
Scott claims he's trying to prevent voter fraud and is only attempting to stop non-citizens from voting but, what he has actually done is put 182,000 lawfully registered, and mainly minority, voters' heads on the block.
On May 8, the State mailed 2,7003 letters to Florida residents informing them, "You are not a United States citizen; however you are registered to vote." Well, it turns out that the list included a 91-year-old WWII vet and a 60 year old woman, born in the far distant country of Ohio, who has been registered to vote in Florida for more than 40 years. Alarmed by this flawed, and probably illegal process, Florida's Supervisors of Elections have halted any cooperation with the purging process, and the U.S. Department of Justice has moved to sue the state and halt the purge. Furthermore, there has been a bipartisan response from elected officials throughout the state to oppose this Jim Crow-esque effort of suppression. Even the bemused Republican state senator, Mike Fasano said that "no one could give me an example of all this fraud they speak about."
Ultimately, despite the lack of evidence so far of any voter fraud whatsoever, Governor Scott stands defiant to both law and reason. Looking at the situation one can only think that, rather than being the champion of democracy he claims, his true motivations are more sinister and malicious.