Americans tend to think of our country as one of freedom, liberty and democracy. Bald eagles soar through the sky, apple pies are set on window ledges and fireworks burst into the air as Americans proudly march down the road to their nearest polling location to do their civic duty. That is, unless you are one of the millions of voting age Americans who have had their right to vote stripped away.
The concept of democracy in America has always been one rife with contradictions; when this country was cobbled together only white, land-owning males were given the supposedly inherent right of personhood. There are plenty of Americans still alive who were subject to racially biased “literacy tests” which shockingly would only be instituted if citizens of minority descent had the audacity to try and vote. Many people assume that with the passing of laws like the Voting Rights Act that our democracy is now free and fair. In many states, especially our home here in Florida, this is far from the case.
Florida leads the pack of states as masquerading itself as a democracy. In the state I was born, raised and participate in elections, over ten percent of voting age adults do not have the right to vote. There is no state with a larger portion of its population under this circumstance. This is because Florida has an automatic ban on voting for anyone convicted with a felony. What has happened in turn is over 1.5 million Floridians do not have the right to vote, despite 93 percent of those who do not have the right to vote are released from prison.
Further compounding the undemocratic nature of these rules, since the removal of rights is based off of our racially biased justice system, a disproportionate amount of felons in Florida are minorities. In fact, over 20 percent of black Floridians do not have the right to vote. Yes, one fifth of all black Floridians do not have the right to vote and will likely never get this right back.
Focusing on Florida is done for some specific reasons, primarily because of Florida’s importance as a swing state in the American system of presidential voting. More than one in five African Americans do not have the right to vote, a number that is absurdly high. Donald Trump won the state’s 29 electoral votes by slightly over 100,000 votes. Compare to the over 500,000 African Americans in Florida that do not have the right to vote, and the fact that exit polls found African Americans in Florida supported Clinton in the election by 84 percent.
For further interesting context, the Florida Board of Executive Clemency reversed its decision from 2007 that granted felons who had served their sentence an automatic right to vote again. This reversal was done under the leadership of Governor Rick Scott. Instead, felons have to wait at least five to seven years to apply for the chance of restoration of rights following the conclusion of their sentencing.
The aforementioned statistics of course were contextualized by my own views. Due to a justice system that exists to disenfranchise people based off of class and race, our democracy mostly reflects this disenfranchisement. Outside of outright bans on voting for certain populations, the most egregious of attacks on democracy, the United States has a host of other issues in placing barriers for people to vote.
This column is not meant in any sore loser sense; Democrats won two straight presidential elections prior to 2016. It is meant to draw attention to the millions of Americans who suffer injustice, many of which have lived many years crime free after doing their time.
Our insistence on punishing people, whether or not they have made mistakes, easily plays into the agenda of many of those that are in power. Men and women make mistakes and it is perfectly reasonable to serve your time, but to continually punish people despite their efforts to improve is abusive and damaging. If Americans are ever to be free we must unite to fight for a real democracy.