The Stolen Votes No One Is Talking About, MLK Day Edition
1st Note: This story originally appeared on my blog on January 15, 2017.
2nd Note: A slightly different version of this blog post appeared on November 28, 2016.
After Jill Stein launched a recount in three states last November, President-elect Donald Trump claimed that his historic loss of the popular vote is due to “millions” of “illegal” votes.
While voter fraud is rare, that didn’t stop the GOP from adopting stringent voter ID laws in North Carolina and Wisconsin, two states that Clinton lost by very close margins on Election Day. When striking down the voter ID law in 2014, a Milwaukee judge estimated that approximately 300,000 Wisconsinites could be disenfranchised by voter ID requirements; vote totals in reliably Democrat strongholds were down on Election Day.
Unfortunately, other types of disenfranchisement were in play as well. While no state permanently disenfranchises convicted felons, the voting rights restoration process in many states is so arcane and arduous that felons may as well be facing a lifetime ban on voting. Nine states require ex-cons to seek a pardon from the governor or obtain a court order in order to vote.
The state of Florida alone currently has about 11,000 convicted felons on the waiting lists for pardons and Republican governor, Rick Scott, has been notoriously stingy with them. In fact, due to felon disqualification, one out of every four black people in Florida who is otherwise eligible to vote in Florida is banned from the voting booth.
While Republican-turned-Democrat Governor Charlie Crist attempted to streamline the pardoning process by issuing a blanket pardon to tens of thousands of ex-cons, his Republican successor, Rick Scott, nullified many of those pardons. Walker did this after Florida Attorney General Pam Bondi rewrote the pardon guidelines in 2011. (Bondi declined to join the New York State Attorney General in suing Donald Trump for fraud in conjunction with Trump University after receiving a large campaign donation from a pro-Trump PAC. Bondi is now a member of Trump’s transition team and is being considered for a role in Trump’s administration, but I digress.)
As the voting rights restoration process almost always involves out-of-pocket expenditures of some kind for the ex-con (time off work, childcare cost, gas money/public transit fares, filing fees, postage, etc.) many poorer ex-cons simply don’t seek out restorations. And that’s if convicted felons are even aware that they are eligible for voting restoration in the first place.
While Florida has the harshest felon disqualifications in the country, eight other states also require convicted felons to apply for voting rights restorations. Trump won seven of those states in the 2016 election. (Incidentally, Terry McAuliffe, the governor of Virginia, restored voting rights through pardons to 200,000 people in April 2016. Clinton won the state by a razor-thin margin seven months later.)
The truth of the matter is that millions of Americans are ineligible to vote due to having a prior criminal history. As blacks and Latinos are overrepresented amongst the prison population and amongst parolees, large segments of POC communities are politically marginalized. Given the highly racialized tenor of Election 2016, this lock-out only benefitted Trump.
Now Trump is on his way to the Oval Office and the GOP, eager to fend off a resurgent Democratic Party, will use their overwhelming control of state legislatures to push through even more laws designed to suppress the vote in Democratic-leaning populations.
The disqualification of former felons is only one of the many ways the Republican Party plans to tighten its stranglehold on the American democratic process.