Fla. Wastes No Time After SCOTUS Gives A Pass On Gerrymandering

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Republicans know most Americans find their policies odious, so in order to win, they cheat through voter I.D. laws, voter suppression, and plain old policies designed to do one thing–rig the system in their favor.

Regardless of the form it takes, Republicans are perpetrating a concerted campaign to disenfranchise Democrats and minorities who vote for them.

Last week, the right-wing-majority United States Supreme Court (SCOTUS) further enabled Republicans in their perfidy when it ruled federal courts are impotent when it comes to challenging states’ gerrymandering, the practice by which parties controlling state legislatures draw voting district maps that favor one political party and its candidates over another, basically permitting politicians to choose their voters instead of the other way around.

This is one way to explain the Republican minority rule responsible for the proliferation of GOP state governorships and legislatures despite the majority of Americans consistently voting for more progressive social and economic policies.

This is also a way to exacerbate states’ voting registration inconsistencies and discourage voters from even showing up on election day.

Supreme Court Justice Elena Kagan, one of the few dissenting voices, criticized that, “for the first time ever,” the court refused to “remedy a constitutional violation because it thinks the task beyond judicial capabilities.”

She added:

“[It’s a problem that] will only get worse (or depending on your perspective, better) as time goes on—as data becomes ever more fine-grained and data analysis techniques continue to improve. Of all times to abandon the Court’s duty to declare the law, this was not the one. The practices challenged in these cases imperil our system of government. Part of the Court’s role in that system is to defend its foundations. None is more important than free and fair elections. With respect but deep sadness, I dissent.”

No sooner did the SCOTUS deliver its decision than Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis signed into law a voter disenfranchisement bill negating Amendment 4 intended to restore voting rights to 1.5 million ex-felons, passed in November’s election.

In May, the Republican-controlled Florida state senate voted along party lines on reform bill SB 7066 which would prohibit felons with restitution, fees, and fines from voting.

As reported in The Daily Kos:

“Floridians voted in favor of a constitutional amendment to restore voting rights for as many as 1.4 million citizens who had fully completed their felony sentences by a 65-35 landslide last year, but on Friday, Republican Gov. Ron DeSantis has signed a new law that will keep the vast majority of those citizens disenfranchised. Republicans also recently passed another law to stymie similar ballot initiatives in the future that DeSantis has already signed.

“To thwart the will of Florida voters, Republicans are imposing a measure straight out of the Jim Crow playbook: poll taxes. This new law would require the payment of all court-ordered restitution as well as any court-related fines or fees before voters can regain their rights.”

Calling it a poll tax is an appropriate analogy.

The law moves Florida’s primary election date back a week earlier and changes the time permitted to allow voters to request and receive mail-in ballots.

Since many who gained voting rights in November have already registered, the law requires the state government to abrogate those registrations.

It also affords voters two days after an election to prove their identities if questions about their signatures on ballot envelopes arise, as well as set ballot design standards to avoid problems such as those that occurred in Broward County in November when recounts and lawsuits ensued over vote totals for U.S. Senate, governor, and agriculture commissioner.

This creates a situation Republicans favor–voter I.D.

SCOTUS Chief Justice John Roberts was clear the high court’s decision does not apply to racial gerrymandering.

Florida’s recent law, however, counters that since most of the disenfranchised are minorities.

This time Republicans might also be harming their own since the majority of Florida‘s ex-felons are white.

Michael Morse, a Ph.D. candidate at Harvard University working on a dissertation on Amendment 4, said:

“A lot of the people impacted are white and they’re certainly not all Democrats.”

He cites the Florida Rights Restoration Coalition, a grassroots group that rallied voters in favor of Amendment 4, whose political director is a white Republican.

Although  Florida’s criminal debt structure makes this case somewhat unique, supporting the state’s action is a precedent set in Arizona requiring citizens to defray all court costs before regaining their voting rights, which the Supreme Court upheld.

Nothing in the ballot initiative’s language mentioned anything about criminal debt.

Micah Kubic, executive director of the Florida American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU), said:

“For decades, state lawmakers had the chance to be on the right side of history and restore the right to vote but failed to do so. Today, instead of following the will of the people, they have chosen to thwart access to the ballot box and a historic citizens initiative that re-enfranchised 1.4 million people. Floridians will not forget.”

Florida was just the first to capitalize on the SCOTUS decision.

Other red states are sure to follow, as they did after Alabama passed the most restrictive abortion ban in the nation in May.

University of California at Irvine election law expert Rick Hasen said as much:

“We’ll see more states doing more bad stuff.”

Election reformers now have limited options with potential obstacles: voter ballot initiatives, lawsuits filed in state courts, and congressional legislation.

Michael McDonald, a University of Florida expert on U.S. elections, stated:

“The hope from the reform groups was that you would just be able to wave a wand over the entire country and fix all the gerrymanders. Roberts said the battle that was in the states will stay in the states.”

Former U.S. Attorney General under Barack Obama, Eric Holder, who heads the National Democratic Redistricting Committee, added:

“We’ll continue to fight against map manipulation using every tool that is at our disposal. But even without no federal guardrail on gerrymandering, this fight is far from over.”

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Ted Millar is writer and teacher. His work has been in featured in myriad literary journals, including Better Than Starbucks, The Broke Bohemian, Straight Forward Poetry, Caesura, Circle Show, Cactus Heart, Third Wednesday, and The Voices Project. He is also a contributor to Op-Ed News, Liberal Nation Rising, and Zoedune.