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Joe Henderson: “Administrative nightmare” for felon voting rights on Amendment 4

With an election looming, it’s not about fairness. It’s only about winning.

Headline writers around Florida received a gift from U.S. District Judge Robert Hinkle. During a challenge to the Legislature’s end-run around Amendment 4 that restored felons’ voting rights, Hinkle noted lawmakers had created “an administrative nightmare.”

Well, they did.

In approving Amendment 4, voters overwhelming endorsed giving those felons who had completed their sentences and probation the right to vote again. Republican lawmakers saw their seats in the House and Senate disappearing into the heavens.

The amendment would have potentially added about a million new voters to the rolls. Many of them probably would have voted for Democrats.

Stopping this was a priority. The situation called for old-fashioned bare-knuckle politics. It required resolute cynicism.

This is not complicated.

What the good judge didn’t say, but I will, is that creating an administrative nightmare was the intention all along. Republican lawmakers wouldn’t admit that, of course. It was about “clarifying” (their word) what voters meant.

A sentence wasn’t complete, Republicans decided, until all fines and court costs were paid. They did that knowing full well that most ex-felons struggle with money and can’t pay.

Hence, the legal challenge to that caveat and a two-day hearing in Hinkle’s courtroom. Did I say ex-felons can’t pay? Some people can’t even find out how much they owe because records are so shoddy.

Hinkle didn’t bring the gavel down all the way, even though it seems pretty clear he wanted to. He threw it back to the Legislature to come up with something a lot closer to what people believed they were voting for.

A show of hands, please, for anyone who believes the GOP-controlled Legislature has any interest in doing that?

Oh, they may have some committee meetings filled with a lot of harrumphs. There could be new proposals that never get to the floor because of, well, something.

We all know what that “something” is, don’t we?

2020 is an election year.

Florida elections are always close. You’ll see a human walk on the surface of the sun before Republicans will do anything that could turn this state blue. If a court ruling later forces them to abide by what voters obviously wanted, well, it probably won’t be in time for November 2020.

It’s all about winning. It’s all that matters.

Fairness? Abiding by the will of the people and the spirit of Amendment 4?

Not so much.

Written By

I have a 45-year career in newspapers, including nearly 42 years at The Tampa Tribune. Florida is wacky, wonderful, unpredictable and a national force. It's a treat to have a front-row seat for it all.

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Publisher: Peter Schorsch

Contributors & reporters: Phil Ammann, Renzo Downey, Rick Flagg, A.G. Gancarski, Joe Henderson, Janelle Irwin, Jacob Ogles, Scott Powers, Bob Sparks, Andrew Wilson.
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St. Petersburg, Florida 33704

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