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Political Strategy for a Permanent Democratic Majority

Republican Leader Shows Integrity

Knew that headline would get your attention. We speak here of Florida Governor Charlie Crist, who last Thursday approved a measure to restore voting rights to an estimated 950,000 Floridian ex-felons, about 9 percent of the voting-age population of the Sunshine State. Crist’s initiative has political observers scratching their heads. How much of a political impact could it have? Salon‘s Farhad Manjoo puts it this way:

The ex-cons belong to traditionally Democratic demographics — many are African-American, and many are poor. If they’re allowed to vote, they’ll likely go to the polls at lower rates than everyone else; Uggen and Manza’s work suggests felons turn out to vote at about the half the general turnout rate in any given election. But in a state as closely divided politically as Florida, that could still make all the difference. In the past several decades, say Uggen and Manza, at least two Senate races in Florida would have gone to Democrats instead of Republicans had felons had the right to vote. Buddy McKay would have beaten Connie Mack in 1988, and Betty Castor would have beaten Mel Martinez in 2004. And, of course, the 2000 presidential election would have gone to Al Gore. Uggen and Manza’s research suggests Gore might have picked up 60,000 votes from felons……if the state’s ex-cons had been allowed to vote in 2000, George W. Bush would now be the commissioner of baseball.

Also check out Nancy Scola’s take on the topic at MyDD, “Felon Enfranchisement: Florida Vs. Rhode Island,” which puts the movement to restore voting rights to America’s ex felons in perspective.

2 comments on “Republican Leader Shows Integrity

  1. Lee Daneker on

    Governor Crist probably did as well as he could with the political cards that he was holding, but progressives shouldn’t be fooled into thinking that most of those 950,000 ex-felons will have their rights restored any time soon.
    Before they get their rights to vote back, they have to pay what was described in the NYT as “restitution.” This sounds like compensation for the victims, but it probably is a short hand for all court costs, fines, and victim restitution that the court has ordered.
    At the moment, we have a similar law here in Washington, with the result that most ex-felons have not had their voting rights restored. That is because when they are discharged they often can get only low wage jobs and can’t pay off the court ordered financial obligations, which continue to increase because of interest. In effect, this requirement is a de facto poll tax. Even when they have paid their court ordered costs, there are numerous bureaucratic hurdles to get their status recognized by the state so that they can legally vote. Ex-felons in Florida are likely to face the same bureaucratic hurdles which will delay restoration of the voting rights of most or at least many.
    The message is that Crist has taken a good step, but progressives should monitor the implementation process closely and speak up strongly if it turns out that actual progress in restoring voting rights is glacial. Progressives should continue to pressure Florida to adopt a system like that in place in other states, e.g. when you serve your prison time and parole time you can vote. We all have an interest in seeing ex-felons integrated into society. It is hard enough for them without the state taking pains to point out(by denying their right to vote) that they aren’t full citizens.

  2. Tom Wieder on

    The post says that Crist “approved a measure.” Was this a statute or other measure that required approval of the GOP Legislature? If so, whatever got them to approve such a politically disadvantageous move? If it was something Crist could do on his own, any info on what pressures he was under from his party not to do it, and why he did it anyway?


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