On today's BradCast, the fight to vote, particularly in Florida, never seems to end --- even after a huge bi-partisan majority of voters in the state voted to change their Constitution last November to re-enfranchise more than a million of their fellow citizens. [Audio link to show is posted below.]
Following decades of post-Civil War Reconstruction/Jim Crow-era lifetime prohibitions on former felons voting in the Sunshine State, voters last fall overwhelmingly adopted Amendment 4 to their state Constitution. The statewide ballot referendum, adopted with nearly 65 percent of the vote, restores full voting rights to former felons who have completed their sentence, including probation and parole. The only exception to the long-overdue landmark measure is for those convicted of murder or felony sexual offenses.
Moreover, the measure --- placed on the ballot after 800,000 signatures were collected across the state by the non-partisan Florida Rights Restoration Coalition, as part of a years-long effort --- was to be self-executing. In other words, as of January 1, 2019, the amendment went into effect, without any supporting legislation necessary. That means as many as 1.5 million former felons, at long last, have begun registering to vote to take part in their own representative democracy, finally ending the state's shameful, decades-long prohibition. This week, however, after introducing a bill on Friday, Republicans in the state legislature have begun speeding a new measure through the GOP-controlled state House of Representatives to add new restrictions on the Constitutional Amendment, limiting which former felons it would apply to and, as critics charge, adding what amounts to an unconstitutional "poll tax" that many former felons would have to pay before being allowed back on the rolls.
The ACLU of Florida derides the new legislation, which was approved in a House sub-committee along party lines on Tuesday, as "an affront to Florida voters", raising "serious constitutional concerns" which "thwart the will of the people and extend far beyond what any reasonable person would conclude the voters intended when they passed Amendment 4".
We're joined today by DR. MICAH W. KUBIC, Executive Director of ACLU Florida, to explain how state Republicans are attempting "to create new barriers and burdens" to the "crystal clear" language of the referendum, which, he notes, the Supreme Court of the State of Florida already approved before it was placed onto the ballot last year. Lawmakers "are changing the process completely, and changing it in a way that had never been used in the state of Florida before," Kubic tells me. "They're rewriting the amendment, they're rewriting the process that has been used throughout Florida, and they're creating a special set of conditions that only apply to ex-offenders that don't apply to anyone else."
"What is important here is to remember the experiences of the 1.4 million people who have been disenfranchised for decades, for generations, in Florida. Who have been told that they are not part of our community, essentially. Because remember, that's what the right to vote is really about --- going in to the ballot box and voting for a Democrat or a Republican or a Libertarian or anyone," Kubic argues. "The right to vote is really a marker of citizenship. It's a marker of who counts and who doesn't, who matters, who doesn't, who is part of the community and who is not."
We discuss with Kubic the way GOP lawmakers are attempting to expand the definition of "sexual offenses", and adding new requirements --- above and beyond fines imposed by judges during sentencing --- that many ex-offenders will simply be unable to pay. Given the national importance of Florida in next year's crucial Presidential election, it may come as little surprise, sadly, that GOP lawmakers are now hoping to undermine even their own voters' approval of last year's landmark ballot measure.
Also on today's program, speaking of next year's elections, a bit of 2020 Democratic primary news. Beto O'Rourke rails against discriminatory Photo ID voting restrictions and other types of voter suppression during a New Hampshire campaign swing. And we discuss the veracity of possible 2020 Presidential candidate and Georgia's former Democratic gubernatorial nominee Stacey Abrams' recently reported assertion that she "did win" her election last November after all, against former vote-suppressing Sec. of State turned Governor Brian Kemp, but "just didn't get to have the job."
Given the widespread voter suppression under Kemp's supervision last year, some 125,000 votes said to be missing entirely (and in disproportionately black neighborhoods) from the Lieutenant Governor's race, and that the state still forces voters to use easily-manipulated, oft-failed 100% unverifiable touchscreen voting systems at the polling place, Abrams' assertion is far more supportable than some elections experts seem to fully appreciate.
Of course, the ongoing controversy --- and Kemp's questionable legitimacy as the state's new Governor --- underscores our many years of warnings about the use of voting systems that do not allow candidates or the public to ever know who actually won or lost any given election. It's also another teachable moment regarding the alarming fact that even more jurisdictions around the nation --- from California to Texas to Georgia to Pennsylvania, Ohio, New Jersey, Kansas, Delaware and beyond --- are now, astonishingly enough, moving to adopt similarly unverifiable computer touchscreen voting systems in advance of the 2020 election!
Finally, we end with what appears to be a bit of very good news, as a federal judge issued a ruling Tuesday night that blocks for now, oil and gas drilling on almost 500 square miles of public lands in Wyoming, after finding the U.S. government unlawfully failed to consider the cumulative effect of climate change causing greenhouse gas emissions in their environmental impact studies when approving oil, gas and coal projects on federal lands. One of the plaintiffs in the case hailed the judge's finding, which may affect other fossil fuel leases on federal lands far beyond Wyoming, as "the Holy Grail ruling we've been after"...
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