We can be a little goofy here in Florida, and thats putting it politely.
We specialize in screwball crimes and cartoonish politicians, and normal people across the nation tune in whenever they want to feel better about themselves.
Comic relief is our niche, and a lot of us seem to embrace it.
But, Ive got to tell you, the states stance on felon voting rights is something else entirely.
It doesnt just put Florida out of step with the rest of America, it puts us on an entirely different planet. And thats not an exaggeration. No state comes close to matching Floridas cruelty on this subject.
“Its shocking,” said U.S. Rep. Charlie Crist, D-St. Petersburg. “And its embarrassing.”
Only in Florida is this such a contentious issue. A district judge recently ordered Gov. Rick Scott to immediately fix the problems created by his administration, and a grass roots effort has amassed nearly 1 million signatures to permanently address the issue via a constitutional amendment.
And just so were clear, this isnt a simple difference in philosophy or policy. Its a fundamental issue the rest of America has figured out, and yet Florida has chosen to view it through a 19th century lens.
Think of it this way:
Less than 2.5 percent of the nations adults are banned from voting because of their felony records. Thats about one out of every 40 adults. In Florida, its more than 10 percent. Or one out of every 10.
Now thats a math equation even I can understand. It means Floridas rate of denying voting rights is more than 300 percent higher than the other 49 states. That seems excessive, dont you think?
Heres another way of looking at it:
Floridas estimated 1.5 million disenfranchised voters, according to the Brennan Center for Justice, is more than Alabama, Georgia, Louisiana, Mississippi, North Carolina, South Carolina and Tennessee combined. When youve managed to out-Jim Crow the entire South, its time to do some soul searching.
Because, the truth is, these numbers impact black residents at a disproportionate rate, which is exactly what they were intended to do when passed more than a century ago.
Part of the problem is the way Floridas laws are written. Felons permanently lose their voting rights and must apply to the state to have their rights restored after completing their entire sentence, including probation and fines. That makes Florida unusual, but not completely alone.
Three other states also require some type of pardon or appeal for a felons voting rights to be restored. The real difference has been in the way Scott has applied the law. One of his first acts as governor was to impose a five-year waiting period for felons to even apply to have their rights restored, along with adding all sorts of bureaucratic hoops to navigate.
But that was just a warmup for the main attack.
Scott and the Cabinet simply ignore most of the requests.
In Crists final year as governor, he oversaw the restoration of rights for 27,456 felons, according to the Brennan Center. In Scotts first year, he restored voting rights for 52 felons. If this were the stock market, that would translate to a drop of 99.82 percent.
This has nothing to do with public safety. I dont even think its driven by misplaced vengeance. Its mostly a way to limit a voting group that Republicans assume will be left-leaning.
In the days before his election as governor in 2006, Crist, who was then a Republican, told a reporter that he would be in favor of restoring felons rights for certain criminal offenses.
“The next day, a lot of my friends from the Republican Party were calling my office,” Crist said Wednesday. “They all said, What are you doing? This is not what we want. And I told them the same thing Ill tell you today: I believe in forgiveness and second chances. Its the right thing to do.”
Its bad enough Florida is known as the mecca of jokes.
Do we also want to lead America in shame?