Black Voter Suppression In Florida African American Studies Essay

1544 words - 7 pages

Black Voter Suppression in Florida
        The vile actions of voter suppression are no stranger to the Southern region of the United States, especially the state of Florida. Voter suppression is a strategy to manipulatively keep a demographic group from participating in an electoral process, through discriminatory legislation, malice intent while campaigning, and utilizing the private sector to use their influence to keep individuals from the polls. The earliest form of voter suppression reared its ugly head during the 19th and 20th century, in the form of Black Codes and Jim Crow laws. This was in the form of poll taxes, literacy tests, grandfather clauses (if your elder members couldn’t vote before legislation neither could you), black codes, gerrymandering, and white-only primaries.[footnoteRef:1] The Voting Rights Act of 1965 changed the electoral landscape across the country and in some places alleviated some of the pressure on blacks to vote in states. [1: Klarman, Michael J. From Jim Crow to Civil Rights: The Supreme Court and the Struggle for Racial Equality. Oxford University Press, 2006.]
The acts of voter suppression continued in the 21st century. In the 2000 presidential election black voter suppression in the state of Florida was put on a national stage. In the predominantly black Duval County it was reported that almost one-third of black votes were rejected and that black precincts had three times the number of votes rejected than to white precincts.[footnoteRef:2] The 2000 presidential election in Florida also prompted an investigation by the U.S. Commission on Civil Rights that found fourteen percent of black voters in the state had their ballots rejected, in comparison to roughly two percent of non-black voters that had their votes rejected.[footnoteRef:3] [2: Washington Post article Duval county ] [3: U.S. Commission on Civil Rights ]
The largest implication of voter suppression in the state of Florida that continues today is the implementation of the “voter purge.” A 1998 bill by the Florida legislature following the corrupt Mayoral election of 1997 in Miami prompted a decade long purge of black voters that started during the 2000 presidential election. The bill allocated $4 million to program to eliminate the deceased, felons, duplicate registrants and the mentally incompetent from the state’s voter roll.[footnoteRef:4] This system that was intended to fix a broken problem that occurred three years prior – actually disproportionately affected black voters in the state. Of those purged sixty-five percent were black, while they only represented only twenty percent of the entire state population. The purge had major implications on the 2000 election because ninety percent of black voters voted for Al Gore in the 2000 election and almost five-thousand black voters were wrongfully purged through this process.[footnoteRef:5] It can be assumed that the five-hundred and thirty-seven victory of George Bush wouldn’t have happened if the purge of black voters did not occur. [4: US Commission on Civil Rights ] [5: The Nation: How the 2000 ]
In addition to heinous acts of systematic voter suppression, it was reported by the Florida NAACP that black voters were harassed by poll workers and that police created physical roadblocks on election day. The Florida NAACP reported that highway patrol officers were running “routine traffic stops” on election day in cities and counties that were predominately black. It was in a 2001 hearing to the U.S. Commission on Civil Rights that Florida NAACP official Anita Davis recalled these actions and recounted her conversation with the Florida Highway Patrol Office.[footnoteRef:6] [6: CSPAN Interview ]
Following the 2000 Presidential Election and the attack on black voters in the state were made public the Florida legislature looked to create new legislation to protect elections in the state for future elections. The first of those acts was the Florida Election Reform Act of 2001, this bill addressed issues regarding types of ballots, uniform policy regarding polling hours, and allocated $24 million to new voting systems.[footnoteRef:7] The investigation completed by the U.S. Commission for Civil Rights did not prompt the Florida legislature to protect the voting rights of black Floridians in the state. The next bill in response to the 2000 election was the Florida Reforms of 2002, a bill that allowed late voter registration and implemented a new policy that allowed voters waiting in line even after the polling center closes to still vote. This bill addressed one of the many problems outlined in the U.S. Commission on Civil Rights regarding problems black voters faced on election day. The bill also promised to go after anyone that violates the Florida State Elections Code. With this bill we saw attempts to making voting more accessible, while making elections more secure from the state level. The downside of this bill contributed to the purging of ineligible voters because it left the discretion up to supervisors of elections – many argued it was a good thing. However, when the state continues to provide inaccurate lists of felons and the deceased, we continue to see the disproportionate numbers of black voters being wrongfully purged.[footnoteRef:8] As can be inferred, the 2000 presidential election was the start of 21st century voter suppression of black voters in the state of Florida. These actions continued well into the decade and brought numerous lawsuits and fights in the Florida state legislature. [7: CNN Florida Election Reform ] [8: Sun-Sentinel ]
The 2008 and 2012 election saw record number of black voter registration, it is reported that the white and black voter turnout gap was erased during these election cycles.[footnoteRef:9] It is also safe to say that this record turnout was due to America nominating and then re-electing the nation’s first African-American President. The increased numbers of black voters in the state of Florida during the 2008 election sent alarms all through the state. The results of this election would bring new voter suppressive efforts for campaigns to come in the state. [9: NPR Article ]
The first came in 2011 following the election of Republican Governor Rick Scott. Gov. Scott made it created suppressive voting efforts that affected the entire state regardless of race but had a higher effect on non-white voters as the minority in the state. The Scott administration reduced the number of hours during early voting and also created restrictions on registering Floridians to vote.[footnoteRef:10] This restriction required that organizations submit the new voter registration forms within 48 hours of the registration drive or program. This led to organizations like League of Women Voters and Rock the Vote to cease voter registration efforts in the state in fear of being fined for not meeting the 48-hour deadline.[footnoteRef:11] The main target of this law was young voters primarily those in college. The result of this was eighty-thousand less Floridians registered to vote in comparison to the 2008 presidential election. [10: Miami Herald ] [11: NY Times Voter Rule]
Under the leadership of Gov. Scott, the familiar voter purged reared its ugly head in the state of Florida again. This time the Justice Department blocked the state from purging voters because it violated the Voting Rights Act and the National Vote Registration Act.[footnoteRef:12] The protection of this legislation states that you cannot purge voters within 90 days of a federal election. However, during the time of litigation Republicans were able to register 128,039 new voters in comparison to 11,365 by Democrats.[footnoteRef:13] [12: Miami Herald 20112 Rick Scott ] [13: The Florida Times Union – Jax ]
The 2012 election was the greatest threat to the electoral process in the state of Florida for black voters. During the 2012 election the closing of polls early and precincts magically no longer serving as polling places is the minor fault of this election. At times voters were in lines for up to 10 hours to vote primarily in black cities and counties. The largest form of black voter suppression the state has seen occurred right before the 2012 election when Gov. Scott reversed a law that reinstated voting rights to former felons that committed nonviolent crimes. The state of Florida is only one of four states (Iowa, Kentucky, and Virginia) that permanently blocks the voting right of former convicted felons. This reversal negatively affected almost 200,000 Floridians – 23% of who were black. The 23% is an alarming number when only 13% of registered voters in the state are black. The ACLU has concluded that as of 2018 the state Florida has suppressed the votes of 1.5 million former felons.[footnoteRef:14] [14: ACLU Felons ]
Following the 2012 election The Center for American Progress (CAP) analyzed that the state shortened the early voting period from 14 days to 8 days in addition to ending voting on the last Sunday before Election Day.[footnoteRef:15] The last Sunday before Election Day was when black churches across the state organized and mobilized their parishioners to get cast their ballots. As a result, there was a drastic drop of early voting by Black voters. Even with the program being non-partisan the Republican controlled Florida government thought to target this voter demographic because of their overwhelmingly support of Democratic candidates in the state and nationally. This analysis by CAP is a great transition to the response and action of the black church during this tumultuous period of black voter suppression in the state of Florida in the 21st century. [15: CAP]


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