Politics

Lebron James Pledged to Help Black People Vote — Here’s How it Will Help the Democrats Win

It All Started in Florida With a Jim Crow Law…

Joe Duncan
Aug 13, 2020 · 8 min read
Photo by JC Gellidon on Unsplash

In hindsight, that wasn’t an overstatement…

I’d heard rumors that we were going to start pushing to give Florida felons the right to vote, overturning a centuries’ old Jim Crow law that Florida still had on the books. I was overjoyed because I knew exactly what that meant for our national politics. This wasn’t just any Jim Crow law, it’s a law that has a chance to radically shift the political landscape for a generation.

At the time, a full-time writing career seemed remote, it was something I did for other sites to pass the time as I traveled from city to rural town and back again every few weeks to work for a different cause, a different client who needed support for their piece of legislation or congressional candidate. Politics was my more-than-full-time job.

Things were different then, it seemed like a whole lifetime ago, so it makes sense that the thought of having LeBron James rescue a project that I’d worked tirelessly on for over a year wasn’t even in the realm of possibilities. But here we are…

I’d gotten tipped off to the fact that there was a political petition that needed to qualify by getting the first 170,000 signatures that would give the legislation the green-light that it needed to go forward. After that, it would be up to professional petitioners and signature-gathering volunteers alike to make sure it qualified and eventually was voted on by the Florida electorate. The chance to relinquish a true Jim Crow law to the dustbin of failed history isn’t an opportunity that comes along every day…I wanted in…

Let’s back up for a minute and put this into perspective. Not only was the law truly a nefarious Jim Crow law dating back to 1868 — right in the wake of the aftermath of the American Civil War — that was enshrined into the Florida State Constitution to assure newly-freed slaves wouldn’t be able to vote, it stood the test of time and assured that by 2017, nearly twenty-five percent of African Americans could not vote due to a prior felony conviction.

In 2017, Florida was already a purple state with a long history of being a battleground state that often resembled a tug-of-war between Democrats and Republicans, with flourishing minority communities and well-entrenched older white voters alike battling it out for the future of the state and the nation.

With its massive sprawl of electoral votes, Florida is one of the few states that anyone trying to win the presidency simply cannot afford to ignore, for better or worse, and never has that been more apparent than the 2000 Presidential Election when Florida was the deciding state, handing the presidency to George Bush rather than Al Gore after a recount (and a lot of voter suppression).

If you’ve ever felt like your vote didn’t matter, check it, in the 2000 election George Bush won the presidency in Florida by 537 votes, an event which kicked off eight years of turmoil and an illegal war in Iraq that killed an estimated 461,000 people. Had Florida Democrats had 538 more votes, the whole thing could’ve been averted. Think of all the catastrophic things that stemmed from those 537 votes…think of how different our world would look today if 538 more people had voted in the Florida election and Al Gore had become our President in 2000 rather than George W. Bush…

Yeah, hindsight sure is 20/20, isn’t it? And that’s the problem…Florida has been in Republican hands through basically little more than voter suppression tactics going back centuries and certainly by an extremely thin margin since 2000. It’s only in retrospect that we can find out exactly how they suppressed the vote and won every single time doing so…

…but we were just about to change all that and turn Florida politics on its head…

I spent the following year working the legislation in various ways, pushing to get it qualified, backed, and to make sure it passed. The fight was hard, bitter, and sometimes cold. I slept on the streets of West Palm Beach while working to drum up support for the law down there and an employer stole $4,000 from me and took off to San Diego. I spent countless twelve and fourteen hour days working tirelessly, doing insane amounts of office work, getting little sleep, basically making this project my life for a year…sleep could come when justice had been done. For far too long, a large portion of the Black Vote in Florida had been shut out of the process and I was having no part of it. Deep down inside, I knew it would change the political landscape for good. The law eventually passed overwhelmingly as Florida voters approved the measure in 2018. All was well, right?

Not so fast…

First, we still had to drum up support for the legislation to make sure all of our hard work wasn’t for nothing. But there was a more sinister problem looming in the distance, one that none of us could see at the time.

In the same midterm, Governor Ron Desantis was chosen over Andrew Gillum by a razor-thin margin of less than 1% and subsequently got to work with State Republicans in making sure the piece of legislation that the voters approved with a large majority would lose its potency. They passed subsequent legislation that would make it so voters had to then pay any fines and fees that they owed before they could vote, supposing they were felons. Florida Democrats rightly fought this in court calling it a poll tax and eventually won the battle in the Florida Supreme Court…but…as the ability for hundreds of thousands of black would-be-voters to actually vote hung in the balance, the Florida Supreme Court recently also ruled that the poll tax would be in effect for this election. Felons could vote but only until they paid the state any debts they had…I was deflated…

Then, suddenly, as if a caped crusader came flying down from the sky, LeBron James came to the rescue a few weeks back…

James banded together with other Black athletes to assure that no one would be left out to dry after all of our hard work. I tear up as I write this in thanks to Mr. James for his commitment to pay the fees of every voter who owes money and would thus be ineligible to vote. As the back-and-forth took place over the years, a battle that’s been long and grueling considering the stakes in Florida are so high, my heart has risen and sunk every time a new ruling came out, something that’s happened too many times to count. But this is the finality.

LeBron James established the organization More Than a Vote which will now combine forces with local voter outreach programs to assure that every Black person who wants to vote, can vote. This means when people go to sign up to register, they’ll be able to check (county clerks) and thus pay off the debts if all goes well. My heart is warm.

To show you how big of a deal this is, here are a few more Florida elections since 2000 that went to Republicans by an extremely slim margin, far slimmer than the 1.4 million felons who’ve now had their voting rights restored…

Considering how close of a state Florida has been for a very long time, and how many electoral votes it brings to anyone’s goal of winning the White House, it’s safe to say that LeBron James may shape the political landscape for a very long time come November if he and voter outreach groups can bring out voters who were formerly disenfranchised.

A Vox article from November 2nd of 2018 titled Ex-Felon Voting Rights Won’t Swing Florida talks about how the make-up of the Florida felon population is predominantly white, not black, even though black Florida felons — just like other black Florida voters — tend to vote overwhelmingly Democratic, meaning if the black felons who turned out and voted all voted Democrat, the Republicans would gain a lot of votes from white felons who voted about down the middle, leaning slightly more Republican.

As Politifact notes:

In total, they found about 19,500 ex-felons whose rights were restored under Crist voted in 2016 — about 58 percent were registered Democrats (largely black), 24 percent were registered Republicans (largely nonblack) and the rest registered with neither party.

The researchers extrapolated that if all ex-felons could have voted in in 2016, Democrats would have gained a net of 48,000 votes. Trump won the state by more than double that margin.

Ahh, 2018, what a time to be alive, right?…the whole world seemed so simple, didn’t it? Because it was. The chaos that would be 2020 wasn’t even a thought in most people’s minds. And Trump winning Florida in 2016 by double the 48,000 votes the Democrats would win over from Felons voting? A thing of the past.

Times have certainly changed since 2018, with a raging pandemic and concurrent unemployment crisis that has rocked our nation sending President Trump’s poll numbers into the toilet, times have certainly changed and that article is beginning, in my view, to resemble more fiction than fact.

As late as this summer, Joe Biden has enjoyed a 14% national lead in the polls against Trump, even sitting 5 points over Trump here in Florida at current, with those additional 48,000 votes adding a little sweet, delicious icing to the top of the cake. And how many white former felons have now fallen on hard times in this brutal pandemic economy, all under Trump’s watch as he and Republican Governor Ron DeSantis have done virtually nothing to help out-of-work Floridians who are losing everything.

Trump virtually can’t win without Florida, full stop. But for Florida to swing Democratic, the Black Vote needs to turn out and with LeBron’s help, they have more opportunity to do so. With races as close as they have been, and Florida being 10% of the electoral votes needed to win the Presidency, it’s just math, Trump needs to win Florida to win a second term, something that’s become increasingly less likely with LeBron James’ help in the fight for justice. And I’m eternally thankful that I got to be a small part of that process.

Moments

Live Passionately

Sign up for The Moments Newsletter

By Moments

The official newsletter for the Moments publication on Medium Take a look.

By signing up, you will create a Medium account if you don’t already have one. Review our Privacy Policy for more information about our privacy practices.

Check your inbox
Medium sent you an email at to complete your subscription.

Joe Duncan

Written by

From Los Angeles, California. Life isn’t a series of many moments, but one moment that is always changing. Buy me coffee here: https://ko-fi.com/joeduncan

Moments

Moments

Live Passionately

Joe Duncan

Written by

From Los Angeles, California. Life isn’t a series of many moments, but one moment that is always changing. Buy me coffee here: https://ko-fi.com/joeduncan

Moments

Moments

Live Passionately

Medium is an open platform where 170 million readers come to find insightful and dynamic thinking. Here, expert and undiscovered voices alike dive into the heart of any topic and bring new ideas to the surface. Learn more

Follow the writers, publications, and topics that matter to you, and you’ll see them on your homepage and in your inbox. Explore

If you have a story to tell, knowledge to share, or a perspective to offer — welcome home. It’s easy and free to post your thinking on any topic. Write on Medium

Get the Medium app

A button that says 'Download on the App Store', and if clicked it will lead you to the iOS App store
A button that says 'Get it on, Google Play', and if clicked it will lead you to the Google Play store