The 2018 election included a Florida ballot initiative to restore felons' voting rights (with the exception of convicted murderers and sexual offenders): the 1.4 million Americans who will get their votes restored today as a consequence are the largest cohort of Americans to get access to the ballot since women's sufferage in 1920.
The restoration of voting rights for felons is an important step in reversing the electoral suppression practiced by Republicans as part of their election-stealing tactics, which range from dark money spending to poll-taxes to gerrymandering and beyond.
97% of people who are indicted by a Federal grand jury plead guilty. That is not because US prosecutors are in possession of psychic powers that help them to solely indict guilty people: it's because the combination of inhumane prison conditions, resource-starved public defenders, farcically long prison sentences, and the proliferation of jailable offenses. If a prosecutor decides you're guilty, he'll get you indicted like a ham sandwich, charge you with a long list of felonies, threaten you with centuries of prison time in a medieval-torture-grade federal pen, stick you with an inattentive, underpaid public defender, and then offer you a plea deal (which your PD will endorse).
The ability to plead innocent is a privilege, a function of the wealth of the accused. Whiteness is also correlated with wealth in America, and banning felons from voting is mostly a way of banning Black and brown people from voting.
Florida's voting restoration ballot initiative was incredibly explicit: it restores votes today, without any need for further work from the legislature. Still, the Republican governor and Secretary of State are proposing to illegally delay the restoration of voting rights, insisting — nonsensically — that the state legislature needs to approve the initiative before proceeding.
There are local elections scheduled for February, before the next legislative sitting, and by slow-walking this, Florida Republicans can deal out one more Jim Crow-style fuck you to the Black people of Florida.
DeSantis, who opposed the amendment during the campaign, indicated that its implementation would be delayed until lawmakers can write it into law during the next legislative session. "They're going to be able to do that in March," he told the Palm Beach Post. Some local elections in Florida are scheduled for as early as February, before the next legislature meets.
DeSantis's comments followed slow-walking on the amendment by other state officials, like Ken Detzner, the Republican secretary of state, who indicated in December that he believed the ballot language was unclear and would require state legislators' review. "We need to get some direction from them as far as implementation and definitions — all the kind of things that the supervisors were asking," Detzner said then. "It would be inappropriate for us to charge off without direction from them."
Lack of direction from the state department — and from exiting Gov. Rick Scott — also led to confusion among election officials across the state, with the Division of Elections director saying that "the state is putting a pause button on our felon identification files . … We need this time to research it, to be sure we are providing the appropriate guidance."
1.4 Million Floridians Get Their Voting Rights Back Today, Whether Republicans Like It or Not [Alice Speri/The Intercept]