By Bob Fitrakis and Harvey Wasserman
Nov 16, 2005
from Online Journal
With nary a peep from the mainstream media, the US Supreme
Court has stabbed yet another partisan knife into the American
This time the court has let stand Florida's infamous 137-year-old
ban on voting rights for ex-felons. It was this same Jim Crow ban
that the GOP used to disenfranchise thousands of Floridians in
2000, providing the margin by which George W. Bush took the
presidency. The ruling continues to take the vote from millions
of African-Americans and non-violent offenders��and, in practice,
others who have broken no laws at all. It is highly likely to
strengthen the lock of the Republican Party and its future
candidates on the US presidency.
In Florida 2000, Republican Governor Jeb Bush used the ban
as a pretext for disenfranchising tens of thousands of mostly
black voters who committed no crime at all, but whose names
allegedly resembled those who did. In the lead-up to his
brother's test at the polls, Bush hired a Republican computer
firm to compile a dubious list which Bush then used to deprive
perhaps 120,000 Floridians, perhaps more, of their right to vote.
It has since been shown that thousands of those who lost their
vote had never been convicted of anything. According to the
Sentencing Project, the number of alleged Florida ex-felons
effectively deprived of their right to vote in 2000 may have been
as high as 600,000, roughly a thousand times as many as
allegedly gave George W. Bush his margin of victory.
Ohio's laws encompass no ban on ex-felon voting rights. But Ohio
Secretary of State J. Kenneth Blackwell also served as the state
co-chair of the Bush-Cheney campaign. As chief administrator of
Ohio's 2004 election, Blackwell allowed county Boards of Elections
to send threatening letters to thousands of ex-felons or alleged
ex-felons. Letters also went to many registered voters who had
been convicted of no crime at all, helping give George W. Bush
a second term.
Franklin County (Columbus) Board of Elections Director Matt
Damschroder, former head of the county's GOP, admitted to the
Free Press that in an average year he cancels 200-300 felons
voting rights. But he said in the 2004 election he cancelled the
rights of 3,500 alleged former felons to vote. Many of their
convictions date back to 1998, and some who received letters
had merely been indicted, and had never been convicted of any
felony at all.
In 1870 the US adopted the 15th Amendment, guaranteeing all
Americans the right to vote, regardless of race (but not gender).
But white racist regimes in the former Confederacy quickly found
ways to circumvent the amendment.
One such tool was the ex-felon ban. Along with poll taxes, the
grandfather clause (disenfranchising anyone whose grandfather
had been a slave), lynching and other violent intimidation, the
attack on ex-felon voting rights was aimed directly at a black
community that had started to gain political power in the South.
Under the white supremacist Democratic Party and its terrorist
adjunct, the Ku Klux Klan, blacks were subjected to unjust and
often absurd prosecutions that stuck them with felony convictions.
As the 20th century dawned, very significant percentages of the
black male population thus lost their vote.
When Richard Nixon launched the "War on Drugs" in the 1970s,
Florida and other states were given a modern pretext by which
to further attack the black community. The attack escalated in
the 1980s under Ronald Reagan and George H.W. Bush, with a
nationwide wave of arrests that shredded much of the Constitution.
By 2000, much of the black male population in many states had
been convicted of non-violent crimes, mostly involving controlled
Some 10 percent of the black population in Florida��possibly
more��remains effectively disenfranchised. Since the black
community now regularly votes 90 percent for Democratic
candidates, this represents a huge and vital windfall for the GOP.
Without it, Al Gore would have carried Florida 2000��and thus
the presidency��by tens of thousands of votes, rather than
allegedly losing it by several hundred.
Today only Florida, Kentucky and Virginia permanently deprive
felons of their franchise once they have cleared parole. Ten other
states restrict those rights in various ways. But especially in
Florida, that ban remains a major key to Republican supremacy.
According to the Sentencing Project, some 4.7 million Americans��one
in 43 adults��have currently or permanently lost their right
to vote due to a felony conviction. The Project says some 1.4
million of those are African-American men, 13 percent of that
group as a whole, more than seven times the national average.
In Florida and other states where ex-felons are permanently or
partially disenfranchised, fully 25 percent of the black male
population cannot cast a ballot.
Among those legally challenging the ban has been Jau'dohn
Hicks, a Florida firefighter and emergency medical technician
freed from prison in 1991. Father of three daughters, Hicks says,
"I work. I pay taxes. I'm raising my children��I want my voice
Based in part on the federal Voting Rights Act, Hicks's case
was carried by the Brennan Center, the Florida Justice Center,
the UNC School of Law Center for Civil Rights and others. It was
supported by leaders of the African Methodist Episcopal Church.
The European Court of Human Rights has pointedly opposed blanket
disenfranchisement of any specific ethnic or racial group.
But the US Federal Court of Appeals of the Eleventh Circuit has
upheld it. The US Supreme Court's refusal to hear this challenge
now effectively leaves it intact.
The court's action is especially ironic in view of its 2000 Bush v.
Gore decision, giving George W. Bush the presidency. That
infamous 5-4 vote overruled the Florida Supreme Court and
stopped a recount, sparing Bush "irreparable harm" under the
14th Amendment. The decision continues to astonish legal
scholars worldwide, and on all sides of the American spectrum.
At least two sitting justices��Antonin Scalia and Clarence
Thomas��had clear conflicts of interest, but refused to recuse
themselves. The five pro-Bush justices then warned that their
partisan intrusion, trashing state jurisdiction, was a one-time
decision, not to be used as precedent for future rulings.
But an historic legal reason for a decision like leaving Florida's
felony ban intact would likely be the "states rights" constitutional
barrier against federal intrusion into election procedures. The
otherwise conservative justices trashed that tradition to give
Bush the presidency in 2000. Now the court seems to be using
it in a way that may help give it to his brother in 2008.
However the justices may explain all this, leaving in tact the
ban on ex-felon voting rights continues the Jim Crow
disenfranchisement of millions of African-Americans and others,
the vast majority of whose crimes��if any��have been non-violent.
So without a peep from the mainstream media, the court now
gouged yet another GOP wound into an American electoral
system already reeling from partisan manipulation.
Bob Fitrakis and Harvey Wasserman are co-authors of How the GOP Stole America's Election & Is Rigging 2008, now
available at www.freepress.org and www.harveywasserman.com,
and, with Steve Rosenfeld, of What Happened in Ohio, available
in spring, 2006, from The New Press.