- Faith & Family
A disproportionate number of Blacks and Democrats have been eliminated from the State of Florida’s voter rolls in a purging frenzy that has stripped convicted felons of the ability to vote. And if the process continues, non-U.S. citizens may be next on the list.
According to data released from the Florida Department of State, 6,934 voters, apparently all men and women with felony convictions, were stripped of the right to vote between January and April of this year. In Florida, convicted felons lose a number of their civil rights including: the ability to run for public office; the privilege to serve on a jury; and the right to vote.
The purging falls into step with the goals of Governor Rick Scott who wiped out gains made under the tenure of former Governor Charlie Crist. Scott pushed through legislation that has made it more difficult for ex-felons to regain their voting rights. Now, they must be crime-free for five years before they can petition the state to regain their civil rights. Scott’s spokesman, Brian Burgess, says felons must be removed from the rolls regardless of their backgrounds. But a closer look at the numbers indicates that background plays a significant if not ominous role in who’s being taken off the rolls.
Is purging process color blind?
Election supervisors and state officials have long posited that the state’s purging process has nothing to do with race or party affiliation. But a closer look at the data offers a conflicting view. Blacks are overwhelmingly members of the Democratic Party. Democrats account for 51.2 percent of those purged while Republicans make up only 17.39 percent. When it comes to race, 2,956 Blacks were eliminated from the rolls (42.63 percent) vs. 3,018 whites (43.52 percent. Hispanics accounted for 8.77 percent or 608 voters. But when one considers that Blacks in Florida make
up 44 percent of the state prison population but only account for 16 percent of the state’s population, one has to wonder if certain demographic groups, particularly Blacks, are being targeted.
“The Republicans are up to their old tricks again,” said State Representative Cynthia Stafford. “They did this recently in 2000 and back then some voters were purged that were actually eligible to vote. Sometimes it’s names that appear to be targeted, like Shenita or Shequita. It’s not that we don’t want clean and accurate voting but the history of this state shows that purging has not been done fairly or justly in the past. And once again, it’s Blacks that are losing out the most. It’s wrong to take away people’s civil and legal rights after they’ve paid their dues to society.”
Desmond Meade, president of the Florida Rights Restoration Coalition, says entire communities are being wiped out of existence with the purging of voting rolls.
“When you focus on the rights of one person, you sometimes forget to look at the bigger picture,” he said. “Given the disproportionate number of Blacks in prison who are now ‘returning citizens’ [he refuses to use the term ex-felons which he says is a negative label], when we allow for these purging schemes, it’s inevitable that entire Black communities are losing their political voice. They are becoming a political non-factor. Commissioners still listen to ‘returning citizens’ because those jobs [city and county commission] are tied directly to the community. But when you look at folks like state representatives or state senators, even school systems and public parks, voters sway the decisions of the office holders. Why fund a park or help a school where most of the people cannot vote? They can’t keep you in office anyway. Those who live in such communities that can vote find themselves and their needs being ignored more and more.”
By D. Kevin McNeir