With less than a month until an exceedingly important Election Day, voting registration and enthusiasm seem to be on the rise – but only for some. Despite the fact that the Voting Rights Act of 1965 was enacted more than a half-century ago, Florida still clings to numerous discriminatory laws and practices that prevent more than 1.4 million Floridians from exercising their most basic right to vote.
The passing of the Voting Rights Act was a monumental achievement for minorities in America, yet key protections have been stripped from or never implemented for many disenfranchised Floridians. Obstacles to registration, illegal voter purging, and new voter identification requirements continue to make participation unnecessarily challenging.
It is both heartbreaking and infuriating to see minorities continue to face obstacles similar to what my mother had to endure as she tried to exercise her rights as a U.S. citizen. Clearly, American society has not made nearly enough advancement toward realizing the goal of “justice for all.”
Even after more than 50 years of the Voting Rights Act, people of color continue to face an array of obstacles when they attempt to participate in the political process. One such barrier is the presence of antagonistic and intimidating voter identification laws. Separate inquiries by the Washington Post and the University of Chicago study have found that members of racial and ethnic minorities are less likely to have the kind of valid photo IDs demanded by some states, and consequently, these laws have a disproportionate effect stifling the desire of those citizens to participate in voting.
Sadly, my home state of Florida is a poster child for using legal processes to keep minorities from voting. In all but four states, convicted felons have their voting and other civil rights restored once they complete their prison term. But not in Florida. Instead, convicted felons must go through a long and cumbersome restoration process that effectively slams the door in the face of more than 1.4 million convicted felons — who, let’s remember, have otherwise paid their debt to society.
So what’s the solution? In Florida, my friends at Blocked From The Ballot have an idea: voting yes on Amendment 4, a proposed constitutional amendment that would restore voting rights for most felons who have completed their entire sentence. Voting yes on Amendment 4 means voting yes for second chances; it means telling politicians that electoral participation isn’t political and every citizen deserves a voice. These individuals have done their time, and have completely turned their lives around and are active members of society, yet Florida’s elected officials won’t allow them to have their opinions counted in any election.
The future of Amendment 4, and therefore the future of many individuals who otherwise have earned their place back in society, rests with the voters of Florida. Imagine how much difference that many votes can make. Think about the progress Florida could make if so many of its residents could actually have a chance for their voices to be heard.