Gov. Ron DeSantis recently made headlines for busting 20 Florida ex-offenders for trying to participate in the 2020 electoral process.
BY FRANK DROUZAS, Staff Writer
STATEWIDE — Back in the Jim Crow days, many southern states implemented dubious “literacy tests” to discourage or outright disenfranchise African Americans from participating in democracy. One such shady crucible required prospective Black voters to first guess the number of jellybeans accurately in a jar. If they were inaccurate, then they’d be denied.
This was obviously a set-up devised to keep an entire people down and silence their collective voice. That would never happen in our more enlightened world today.
Gov. Ron DeSantis recently made headlines for busting 20 Florida ex-offenders for trying to participate in the 2020 electoral process. He made sure of the headlines himself as he made a big show about calling a press conference — during which a wall of officers in uniform stood behind him to complete the tough, no-nonsense visual desired. He announced how his newly formed “election security team” goon squad had nabbed some criminals trying to mess with our elections.
Here’s the thing: if DeSantis’s own administration gives the “all clear” to these people’s voter registration applications, then turns around and say, “Aha, gotcha!” before slapping the handcuffs on them, then that sounds like a set-up to me. It also stinks of entrapment.
Neil Volz, deputy director at Florida Rights Restoration Coalition, pointed out on NPR that Florida law requires the state to prove that someone “willfully” and “intentionally registered or voted” while ineligible.
The state has a convoluted and confusing system for felons to regain their voting rights that is difficult to navigate. Furthermore, multiple news outlets have reported that local and state-level election officials did not flag the voter registration applications and even issued the defendants voting cards!
“If you can’t count on the government to tell you if you are eligible to vote, then who can you count on,” Volz asked.
Now all these potential voters — who allegedly have voted illegally in counties throughout Florida, including Hillsborough — have become defendants. Some voting rights advocates are urging them to fight the charges, while others say that too often, those charged in criminal prosecutions plead guilty to avoid a jury trial. So, it’s sort of a lose-lose situation for them.
Sen. Jeff Brandes, the Republican from St. Pete and Senate sponsor of the law that implemented the felons voting law, even tweeted, “The more that comes out on the arrests, the more I believe the individuals involved had no knowledge or intent to violate the law.”
Now in all fairness, since these defendants haven’t been identified due to the ongoing investigation, we have no way of knowing if they are people of color. But to DeSantis, that’s not really the point. He wants to convince us that he is cleaning out all the undesirables (like Blacks during Jim Crow) and suppressing their voices in a show of sanctimony and strength.
And frankly, it doesn’t matter that much to him if these charges stick. The dog-and-pony show of the press conference is over, and that’s the visual he’s hoping will be seared into our memories — that he stood up to these Bad Guys in a Broward County courtroom with the full power of the law, literally and figuratively, behind him.
What happens if no one can prove these defendants knowingly broke the law and are cleared? Egg on the face of our governor? Likely not.
Does anyone remember how the Disney World/Reedy Creek decision played out when DeSantis decided that Disney should not be self-governing as they have been for half a century and the taxpayers in Orange and Osceola Counties should pick up the tab for maintenance of the park?
Probably not. And that’s what DeSantis is counting on. Another exhibition of political bluster designed to make his base applaud and whistle, like when their champion bravely stood up to a big corporation like Disney that dared speak out against his “Don’t Say Gay” law.
It’s not like this is his first stab and trying to suppress voters. Recall the congressional map he drew that a judge deemed unconstitutional.
“The enacted map is unconstitutional under the Fair District Amendment,” said Leon County Circuit Court Judge Layne Smith, appointed by the governor.
That’s the polite, legal way of putting it. The more real-world way is to say that the primary purpose of this redistricting map was to dilute the Black vote.
Remember also the coalition of Black pastors that traveled to Tallahassee in March of last year to formally protest SB-90, which sought to eliminate drop boxes at early voting sites, among other vote-by-mail restrictions. These pastors saw this as a ploy to fix a voting fraud problem that didn’t exist and believed it was a thinly veiled attempt to reduce the opportunity to vote and consequently suppress minority votes.
All this is, of course, in line with the general push by his party to implement more severe voting restrictions to promote “election integrity,” even though there was nothing wrong with the way we held a free and fair election in 2020 anyway — just as DeSantis, he’ll tell you. He might add the caveat that there’s always room for improvement, that’s all.
“You never reach perfection,” he said in that Broward County press conference, “but we’re going to try and get there.”
If DeSantis is running out of ways to “reach perfection” by suppressing votes and stifling voices, then why not resort to some of the tried-and-true tactics? After all, I’m sure there’s money in the budget for a glass jar and a bunch of jellybeans.