Florida Gov. Crist Makes History
Will end permanent disenfranchisement of
Florida’s 600,000 ex-felons who’ve paid their debt
Newly elected Florida Gov. Charlie Crist (right) says “Good bye to all that”
and distances from disgraced Bush elections policies.
TALLAHASSEE, FL (AP) -- Governor Charlie Crist says he will continue working to change the rules so that felons will have their voting rights automatically restored once they have paid their debt to society.
This is one of the most revolutionary and far reaching proposals made by a governor in years. The removal of voting rights for ex-felons, those who have served their time and returned to society, is a direct descendent of the 1890 Mississippi Constitution. This document proudly listed a variety of ways Post Reconstruction whites would remove all political power form black citizens.
Crist announced that this campaign promise was a top reform priority. The St. Petersburg Times quoted him as saying, “I am going to keep pushing to get us where I think we need to be." To accomplish this by edict under Florida law, Crist needs the consent of two or three cabinet members. In order to gain support, the Times reported that there would be exclusions for those convicted of murder, rape, or major drug trafficking.
During Reconstruction black American voting rates in the South were very high. Blacks and whites serving together in elected governments for years. When the Republicans traded the presidency for an end to Federal presence in the former Confederate states, the Compromise of 1876, Reconstruction ended and so did the rights of blacks to vote. This effort is part of general trend scholars Christopher Uggen and Jeff Manza termed Democratic Contraction, a means of denying universal suffrage for political advantage.
Once charged with a felony, almost any felony, you lose your right to vote, permanently in 14 states. As a result, 3.9 million Americans are disenfranchised for life due to felony convictions. Over 600,000 Floridians, mostly minority, mostly male, have lost their right to vote even though they have served their sentences. Florida is far from unique.
In Virginia, for example, over 200,000 males, mostly black Americans, have no right to vote due to felon disenfranchisement. Just before leaving office, former Virginia Governor Mark Warner was urged to restore ex felon voting rights by proclamation. He refused. His successor, Tom Kaine, Dem touts the efficiency of the restoration of voting rights. However, only a negligible number of ex felons have been returned to the rolls.
Crist’s proposal represents a serious attempt to right this long time wrong and end the ties between the New South and the racist legacy that survives even today in attacks on the voting rights of black Americans. He does so knowing that this may hurt his party and his own chances for re-election. Why? We can’t know for sure but there is every reason to believe that he’s doing this because it’s the right thing to do and it’s long overdue.