Hawkins Criticizes Florida For Undermining Felons Right To Vote

By Howie Hawkins Green for President

Last November the people of Florida voted for democracy by restoring voting rights of people convicted of crimes. In a landslide vote, Amendment 4 passed with overwhelming support—65% of the electorate voted to reject the Florida statute that had been ushered in during the Reconstruction era for the express purpose of denying voting rights to freed slaves. With its passage of Amendment 4, over 1.4 million citizens were to have their voting rights immediately restored. It was an impressive show of solidarity with people who had been convicted of crimes and served their time.

In response to this strong support for democratic inclusion the Republican-led legislature and Governor DeSantis, also a Republican, have done all they can to undermine the voters’ decision. They have created a two-tier electoral system that amends the voter initiative to require that all fees owed by ex-felons be paid in full before they can actually register to vote. This denies the vote to the poorest ex-felons and is the equivalent of a poll tax.

The ACLU of Florida has filed suit against the Desantis law, litigation that the Hawkins campaign applauds, and they point out that this two-tiered system is unconstitutional. It is made worse because Florida has sharply increased monetary penalties on people in the criminal justice system in order to finance its basic government functions. People often emerge from the system with not just a conviction but mountains of debt that they cannot hope to pay. Poverty and low income should not be used as barriers to voting.

DeSantis and the state legislature did not stop with undermining the passage of Amendment 4. They took actions to further undermine democracy for all Florida voters. Through a backroom deal, they tacked on measures to an unrelated tax bill that would make the initiative process substantially more difficult and levy severe financial penalties against individual petitioners for even making minor clerical mistakes.

Voter initiatives which allow voters to put issues on the ballot are important to US democracy as representative democracy has significant shortcomings that prevent important issues from being considered. One of the major flaws in US governance is that the Supreme Court treats money as speech. This allows money to dominate elections and in so doing, dominate elected officials. As a result, if current policies are not working but make a lot of money for big business interests, they do not get reconsidered by the legislature. We see this with the lack of consideration of single-payer healthcare, where insurance companies, pharmaceuticals, and for-profit health providers oppose single-payer but the people support it. We also see it with the power of the oil and gas lobby preventing action to prevent climate chaos. The initiative process needs to be made easier so people can express themselves with direct democracy — a people’s vote on issues.

We applaud the people of Florida for giving felons the right to vote. We think voting is an important part of bringing formerly incarcerated people back into society. Felon disenfranchisement just alienates the formerly incarcerated more. Indeed, the Hawkins campaign goes further. We support people who are currently in prison being able to vote. Prisoners vote in both Vermont and Maine. At least 16 democratic countries allow prisoners to vote, including Canada, Croatia, Czech Republic, Denmark, Finland, Ireland, Latvia, Lithuania, Macedonia, Serbia, Slovenia, Spain, South Africa, Sweden, Switzerland, and Ukraine. Allowing prisoners to be part of democracy is part of their rehabilitation and makes them part of our society.

Similarly, we need to make voter registration easier by putting in place universal voter registration so the government takes on the responsibility of registering people to vote when they reach the legal age. This registration can be done as part of high school graduation, admission to college, any interaction with government agencies like departments of motor vehicles, and same-day voter registration on Election Day. Universal voter registration also means government stops the practice of purging registered voters from voter lists without valid cause. The US should strive for 100 percent voter registration. Related to this, voting should be made easy by holding elections on weekends or creating a holiday for voting and by making sure waiting lines for voting are short by having enough voting precincts and machines. Congress must also restore the preclearance provisions of the Voting Rights Act that were struck down by the US Supreme Court in 2013. These provisions required prior approval from the Attorney General that ensures the state’s actions do not discriminate against protected minorities. It is precisely in the covered jurisdictions with histories of racist voter suppression like several counties of Florida where laws have recently been enacted to suppress the vote.

These are some of the many democratic reforms that are part of the Hawkins campaign agenda. The United States needs more democracy, not less.

For more on the Hawkins campaign visit HowieHawkins.US

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About Kevin Zeese

Kevin Zeese is a public interest attorney who has worked for economic, racial and environmental justice as well as peace since graduating from George Washington Law School in 1980. He co-directs PopularResistance.org which works to build the independent movement for transformational change. Zeese co-hosts, Clearing the FOG a radio podcast which airs on We Act Radio, Progressive Radio Network, and other outlets.  He is recognized as a leading activist in the United States in the series Americans Who Tell the Truth. Zeese was an organizer of the Occupation of Freedom Plaza in Washington, DC in 2011.  He serves as president of Common Sense for Drug Policy and is a co-founder of the Drug Policy Foundation, now known as Drug Policy Alliance as well as a former director of NORML. He is a co-founder of Health Over Profit for Everyone which seeks to put in place National Improved Medicare for All. Zeese is an advocate of Internet Freedom and is a leader of the campaign for Title II Net Neutrality to ensure equal access and treatment for everyone on the Internet.  Zeese served on the steering committees of the Chelsea Manning Support Network which advocated for the Wikileaks whistleblower and is on the advisory board of the Courage Foundation which supports Edward Snowden, Julian Assange, and other whistleblowers. Zeese is an election integrity advocate who a co-founded TrueVote Maryland which led a successful campaign to end the use of paperless voting machines in the state.  He has been active in independent and third party political campaigns including Peter Camejo for governor of California served as press secretary and spokesperson for Ralph Nader in 2004 and as a senior advisor to Jill Stein in 2016.  He ran for the US Senate in 2006; the only person ever nominated by the Green, Libertarian and Populist Parties of Maryland and the only person ever nominated by the Green and Libertarian Parties for a statewide office. Zeese served as Attorney General in the Green Shadow Cabinet.

12 thoughts on “Hawkins Criticizes Florida For Undermining Felons Right To Vote

  1. Jim Polichak from Long Island

    Cain’t lets theem folks get uppity enough to wanna vote – Ken We?
    Put in jail to stop ’em in the firs’ place.

  2. NewFederalist

    I wonder if he is in favor of full restoration of their 2nd Amendment rights as well?

  3. Tony from LI

    New Fed: ” . . . . .I wonder if he is in favor of full restoration of their 2nd Amendment rights as well? . . . . ”

    Just off the top of my head, I would say around 60% of Americans support the restoration of voting rights for felons.

    I’d say probably 6% support allowing them to own death sticks.

  4. paulie

    Just off the top of my head, I would say around 60% of Americans support the restoration of voting rights for felons.

    I’d say probably 6% support allowing them to own death sticks.

    You must be well aware that many ex offenders have little choice but to go back to neighborhoods where there is a lot of crime of which they can be victims as well as perpetrators, given that they may likely still have enemies with scores to settle or who see them as gang rivals even if they gave up that life, or just target them at random. So denying them the means of self defense is if anything cruel and unusual punishment, and some people prefer to go back to prison – even commit repeat offenses specifically to be incarcerated again – rather than subject themselves to that. Others have no intentions of committing further offenses or going back in but go back anyway strictly due to gun charges, because this ban puts people in too much of a bind and they have little choice where they live (and have no realistic option to live anywhere else) than to break this bizarre and cruel regulation in order to survive and not become crime victims themselves.

    I have known people in those situations yet it continues. Why?

    There’s too much tendency to assume anyone who is guilty of past offenses is a criminal for life. Yet a lot of recidivism is precisely because of how ex cons get treated, so it’s a self reinforcing cycle. I’m all for restoring felon voting rights but restoring the right to self defense is even more fundamental and important.

  5. Tony From Long Island

    Paulie:

    Yes, I am very aware of the situations in which many (but not all) formerly incarcerated people face upon release. For a large number of those, The cycle repeats itself because they decline to improve themselves while incarcerated. The tools are there. Owning a Gun doesn’t need to be one of them.

    p.s Thanks.

  6. dL

    Owning a Gun doesn’t need to be one of them.

    IIRC, you don’t think anyone should own so-called death sticks, sans, of course, blue costumed critters.

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