Voter suppression has tarnished election processes in the United States for decades. Many were concerned that the 2020 election would be no different. In recent years, the most notorious cases of voter suppression centered around the southern states of Florida and the 2020 election superstar, Georgia.
However, Florida’s monumental passing of Amendment 4 in 2018 restored voting rights to upward of one million Floridians with previous felony convictions. (Washington Post) The passage of this ballot measure was momentous for Black Floridian voters; according to a 2016 report from The Sentencing Project, in Florida (as well as Tennesee, Virginia and Kentucky), upward of 1one in 5five Black constituents were disenfranchised and ineligible to vote in the 2016 presidential election.
Unfortunately, since the passage of Amendment 4 in 2018, Republican leaders have bogged down this bill with litigation and counter-measures. Gov.ernor Ron DeSantis went as far as to enact a bill instituting a new-age poll tax on individuals previously incarcerated for felony charges, respectfully known as returning citizens. DeSantis’ 2019 bill required that, for returning citizens to remain eligible to vote, they must pay all fines and restitution associated with their previous incarceration.
The constitutional legitimacy of this measure remains tied up in litigation. Still, according to a report from the Washington Post, members of DeSantis’ cabinet published memos encouraging election officials to implement various voter suppression and intimidation tactics less than a month before Election Day. Luckily, a statement published by the ACLU of Florida reminded officials of state election laws that DeSantis’ moves would violate, thus halting any last-ditch efforts to remove potentially eligible voters or block them from the polls. Since Amendment 4 and its countermeasures are still under litigation in the 11th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals, there was no “credible or reliable information” to remove returning citizens from voting polls before Election Day. Nonetheless, moves made by Republican leaders confused and likely discouraged many eligible constituents from voting on November 3.
Similar efforts to suppress liberal-leaning marginalized voters came after an extremely marginal Republican win in Georgia’s 2018 gubernatorial elections. Such actions did not take the form of felony disenfranchisement, but rather, were enabled by the cumulative purging of voter rolls by Republican Governor Brian Kemp.
According to a report from The Guardian, in 2017 alone, Kemp purged 668,000 voters from voting rolls; through litigation, at least 340,134 of these constituents were found to be wrongfully purged. Furthermore, in the three months leading up to the 2018 midterm elections, another 85,000 Georgia voters were purged of their eligibility to vote.
The most contentious aspect of such purging is that potentially eligible voters were never notified of their removal from voting rolls. At the time, the state of Georgia did not allow for same-day voter registration. This means that many constituents showed up to their polling locations intending to cast their votes and faced extremely long wait times, only to learn that they weren’t registered and ineligible to cast their votes.
Former Georgia House of Representatives minority leader Stacey Abrams as well asand president and executive director of the Florida Rights & Restoration Coalition Desmond Meade decided to tackle this issue head-on. Abrams and Meade have been working tirelessly over the past two years to combat the suppression and disenfranchisement of potentially eligible voters within their states and across the nation.
Meade led the FRRC to the successful passage of Amendment 4 in 2018 through grassroots organizing and responded to the additional barriers put in place for returning citizens. The FRRC, in a partnership with the League of Women Voters of Florida, organized outreach and voter registration initiatives, provided pro-bono legal services and established a fund to help pay any outstanding fees and fines that now prohibit returning citizens from voting. (FRRC)
Abrams has become the face of a similar movement aiming toward increased voter registration and turnout in Georgia, and rightfully so. After her contested and extremely marginal loss in 2018 to Republican Kemp, Abrams spearheaded the Fair Fight campaign, which directly combats voter suppression tactics in Georgia and across the country. (NPR) Additionally, in 2014, Abrams founded The New Georgia Project, an initiative also focused on eligible voter engagement and registration.
The 2020 election outcome would not have occurred without the hard work and efforts put forth by community leaders like Abrams and Meade. Organizations and coalitions like the FRRC and Fair Fight 2020 worked to protect the civil rights of those most marginalized by this nation. Without the dedication and hard work of these trailblazers, the results of this election would not have been so favorable. So when looking back on the only highlight of 2020 thus far, remember it was the hard work and dedication of Black community organizers and activists that got us there.