Florida Governor Ron DeSantis and his Republican-led State Legislature are doubling-down in showing how the Florida government is among the most backward in the nation. It’s the state where ALEC-inspired “Stand Your Ground” law allowed white vigilante George Zimmerman to walk away scot free after the cold blooded murder of Trayvon Martin. Now, DeSantis & Co. have instituted a poll tax intended to restore the disenfranchisement of the poor and disproportionately Black ex-felons who had been excluded from the political process by barring ex-felons from voting.
The state’s two-tier system that denied the vote to the poorest ex-felons was successfully challenged last November by the passage of Amendment 4, granting ex-felons the immediate right to vote. But in the Republican Party’s latest voter-suppression maneuver, it passed a bill, which DeSantis signed, requiring that all fees owed by ex-felons such as court costs and “restitution,” be paid in full before they could actually register.
Amendment 4 — which was endorsed by the Green Party of Florida —had been spearheaded by the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) in the best democratic fashion — through a ballot initiative that gathered nearly one million signatures. Amendment 4 passed with overwhelming support as 65% of the electorate rejected the Florida statute that had been ushered in during the Reconstruction Era for the express purpose of denying voting rights to freed slaves. With its passage, over 1.4 million Floridians said those days were finally over.
The ACLU has already responded with a federal lawsuit. They state:
“The law unconstitutionally conditions voting on whether a person can pay monetary penalties associated with their conviction. This barrier to voting is particularly unjust because Florida, along with states across the country, has sharply increased monetary penalties on people in the criminal justice system in order to finance its basic government functions. People often emerge from the system with not just a conviction but mountains of debt that they cannot hope to pay. The charges can include, for example, substantial debt imposed for being appointed a public defender — an assignment made precisely because a person cannot afford counsel. The impacts are especially harsh for people of color given longstanding racial disparities in wealth and poverty.”
DeSantis & Co. didn’t just stop with undermining Amendment 4 itself. The initiative process has been one of the primary ways that Florida citizens could bypass its thoroughly corrupt bipartisan gerrymandered system and exercise direct democracy. So by concocting a shady smoke-filled backroom deal, the Legislature tacked on measures to an unrelated tax bill that will make the initiative process substantially more difficult. Now, the state can levy severe financial penalties against individual petitioners who might make minor clerical mistakes. Naked intimidation.
These attacks demonstrate a fear of real democracy and full participation, especially by people of color and those who live in poverty.
The Green Party of Florida (GPFL) stands four-square behind the ACLU in its fight to open up the democratic process. As Robin Harris, co-chair of the GPFL, states:
“White Supremacist Governor DeSantis maximizes Jim Crow and Southern strategy regimes in Florida by signing this atrocious bill that not only ignores the voice of the people, but screams voter suppression. The poll taxes that were used to disenfranchise black Americans under Jim Crow have returned. We recognize the tactics of racism to destroy and silence the black vote.
“We demand the right of black communities be respected and their voting rights fully restored. We stand against this undemocratic process and unite fully with the ACLU in all efforts to repeal this action.”
— Rose Roby
Co-Chair, Pinellas County Green Party