2012 Presidential Election Could be Impacted

March 17, 2011- A new Florida rule stops felons from voting long after they’ve served their time. Is it tough-on-crime posturing — or a way to keep Obama from winning the state in 2012?

The United States has the highest incarceration rate in the world, with one out of every 32 Americans locked up or on probation or parole at any given time. But some lawmakers think that’s not quite harsh enough.

Prisoner reentry was turned into a political football in Florida on Wednesday when newly elected Governor Rick Scott, at the urging of State Attorney General Pam Bondi, swiftly changed the rules governing when felons’ rights are restored in the state. Moving with Blitzkrieg-like speed usually reserved for petty, tin-horn dictators in third-world banana republics, Scott, and the Florida Cabinet, imposed a five-year wait period on individuals convicted of non-violent crimes, and a seven-year wait for those convicted of violent crimes. Additionally, those in the latter category must have a hearing before a clemency board which will determine if their civil and voting rights are to be restored. “Felons seeking restoration of civil rights demonstrate they desire and deserve clemency only after they show they’re willing to abide by the law,” Scott said.

However, Howard Simon of the Florida ACLU, recalling the hotly contested 2000 presidential election, in which George Bush carried the state by the slimmest of margins and was declared the victor only after the Supreme Court ruled in his favor, suggested that the move was designed to deny voting rights to as many people as possible before the 2012 presidential election. “The unseemly haste and lack of transparency suggests clearly that this was politics disguised as public policy,” Simon said.

Cleveland State University Urban Studies Associate Professor Ronnie Dunn has written extensively in regards to how, since the advent of the era of Jim Crow, unfair laws have been enacted — particularly in southern states — to deny blacks the right to vote. Writing in a soon-to-be-released handbook on prisoner reentry, he describes how poll taxes, literacy tests, and property ownership were devices routinely used to suppress the black vote and unfairly affect election outcomes.

Florida now joins two other states, Kentucky and Virginia, in having the most severe restrictions on former felons voting and reinstitution of other rights such as serving on juries and holding certain professional licenses. Five black Florida lawmakers joined a chorus of civil rights advocates in objecting to the rule changes, saying no evidence existed that the abandoned process, which was approved by former Gov. Charlie Crist and the former Cabinet in 2007, was not working.

“It’s really not about what’s right or fair,” said Ken Lumpkin, an attorney and political activist in Cleveland. “This is about stealing elections and hurting individuals’ chances of starting over after prison. If felons had had the franchise in Florida back in 2000, over a million more people would have been eligible to vote, the election would not have been close enough for the Supreme Court to give it to Bush. What this new governor is doing is rolling back the clock on minority rights. And with Republican governors and legislative majorities in states like Ohio and Wisconsin, no one should be surprised if they try to change the rules in those states also. If that happens, a Democratic candidate for president won’t stand a chance.”



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