Ruth: Lawmakers should let Amendment 4 work

Felons already are registering to vote, and there is no need for the Legislature to get involved.
SCOTT KEELER   |   Times
State lawmakers should not tinker with Amendment 4, which automatically restores voting rights to most felons who have completed their sentences.
SCOTT KEELER | Times State lawmakers should not tinker with Amendment 4, which automatically restores voting rights to most felons who have completed their sentences.
Published January 11

BY DANIEL RUTH

Times correspondent

Perhaps nothing vexes the grifting class in Tallahassee more than those nettlesome citizens who have the audacity to take democracy into their own hands. Can’t they just shut up and go about their pre-ordained mundane business of being serfs and leave the serious work of running the state in the hands of their elected lobbyist corps lap dogs?

This is Tallahassee after all, which is an old Seminole word for Three Card Monte.

So you can only imagine the consternation that swept through the Florida Legislature and the Governor’s Mansion when voters in November rose up and expressed their will. And Atlas sighed.

More than five million Floridians voted to approve Amendment 4, which automatically restores the voting rights of more than 1 million felons who have completed their sentences. The measure passed with 64 percent of the vote, which would certainly seem to rise to the level of a pretty clear-cut mandate.

The success of Amendment 4 immediately set off a paroxysm of chin-rubbing, clucking, caterwauling and no small amount of harrumphing on the part of the Tallahassee power elites, for whom voter suppression is a blood sport.

Why, if you start allowing felons to vote, well by God they might actually vote. And there is every potential likelihood they may not vote for the very people who have been treating them like political cooties. No good would come from this. You start allowing felons to have a seat at the electoral table, and the next thing you know ISIS might well be marching through the streets of Two Egg.

Something had to be done to subvert the will of the people. This representative government balderdash is so highly over-rated.

Obviously, this called for some high-toned hummana-hummana-hummana, with just a splash of posing for holy pictures for good measure.

Then Governor-elect Ron DeSantis suggested while restoring the voting rights of felons might be a lovely thing, it could require some “implementing language,” which is Tallahassee-speak for: “We’re going to bury this thing deeper than Jimmy Hoffa.”

Sen. Dennis Baxley, R-Ocala, who chairs the Ethics and Elections Committee, (which is a bit like appointing Keith Richards to run the Drug Enforcement Administration) also suggested the felon voting rights issue “may or may not” require the Florida Legislature to ponder the prospect of implementing legislation.

Further study might be needed, which was another way of saying if Tallahassee gets its way, felons would be permitted to vote about the same time President Donald Trump releases his tax returns.

Tallahassee is infamous for undermining citizen initiatives. What do those great unwashed peons know about government? After all, they elected members of the Florida Legislature, didn’t they?

But this is far more serious. For allowing felons to cast a ballot threatens the political order of the state. Even if only half of those 1.2 million prospective voters actually registers you are looking at hundreds of thousands of new ballots being cast. In the immortal words of that former Tallahassee philosopher Jeb Bush, “Rut-roh!”

Despite the whining from DeSantis and Baxley as to how Amendment 4 might need the careful massaging of the Florida Legislature, the county supervisors of elections already have begun to accept voter registrations from felons, reasonably concluding Amendment 4 is clearly worded and self-implementing without any help from Tallahassee.

Citizen motivated measures like Amendment 4 only come about because the Florida Legislature or the governor are too feckless, too gutless, too fearful to act on their own to address potentially politically controversial issues.

Under former (and then-Republican) Gov. Charlie Crist, voting rights were easily restored for many felons. Crist was willing to take the heat for simply doing the right thing. Former Gov. Rick Scott could have left well enough alone. Instead he cruelly rolled back the reforms and reduced the number of restorations to a trickle. On Scott’s watch, Sir Thomas More would have had a hard time being allowed to vote, if he hadn’t already been beheaded.

During the Scott years, Tallahassee Republicans engaged in all manner of voter suppression schemes to make it harder to cast a ballot. But this time around the body politic proved you can’t suppress democracy forever when 5 million people rise up to have they say.

Memo to Tallahassee: Get over it.

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