Under the guise of preventing voter fraud, Governor Rick Scott of Florida is taking actions that will potentially impact the right of many Black people in Florida to vote and influence the outcome of the 2012 presidential election. Obviously, as Florida is the biggest swing state in the country, the stakes couldn’t be higher.
Potentially abusing the law and implementing policy that may end up discriminating against black people, the Scott administration’s continuing efforts to suppress minority voters harkens back to the extremist legacy of Jim Crow era politics. We thought we had seen the end of Jim Crow with the passage of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 and the Voting Rights Act of 1965 — Federal laws passed to stop the practice of discrimination of African-Americans and subsequently other racial minorities — however, it appears we may have been wrong.
Unfortunately, perhaps we shouldn’t be surprised, as Florida has become infamous when it comes to suppressing the voting rights of Black people.
In 1865, Florida’s constitution limited the right to vote to ‘free white males.’ However, while the 14th Amendment granted equal rights to newly emancipated slaves, Florida’s powers-that-be developed apportionment practices that actually diminished Black voting power. Furthermore, in 1885, voting rights were tied to paying a poll tax, which disproportionately hurt the poorest (and overwhelmingly Black) citizens of the state and, on top of that, African Americans who attempted to register to vote were subjected to various forms of harassment and intimidation.
Fast-forwarding to 2011, Florida’s legislature passed an omnibus voting bill that impacted how organizations and individuals registered their friends and neighbors to vote, along with cutting back on early voting days — again, as it cut out the last Sunday before Election Day, this act disproportionately affected Black voters due to the tradition of African Americans voting after church, a practice which is known as ‘souls to the polls.’ In Florida, 54 percent of African-American voters exercised their franchise during early voting. So, perhaps it is no wonder that these laws are being challenged by civil rights and voting rights organizations.
Now, in 2012, and despite the proclamation of a ‘colorblind’ America, the extreme actions of the Sunshine State’s Governor could systematically undermine the voting power of African American and Latino citizens. By creating his ‘purge’ list, Governor Scott is intending to generate a snowball effect of greater voter suppression. His actions could create an environment that challenges the rights of registered minority voters based on a growing, manufactured hysteria around voter fraud. If allowed to succeed, it will turn the clock back to a more shameful time in our great state’s history.
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