I didn't get to watch all of Melissa Harris-Perry's show this morning (it's not the weekend for me, not yet). But I did catch one of the early segments on voter suppression and the particular emphasis on the disenfranchisement of felons. In some states -- including mine, Arizona -- it's a permanent loss of the right to vote unless the state government in question intervenes.
What I saw on MHP about the practice was mostly stuff I knew, as I have written about this before. What I really appreciated, though, was the discussion on ways to fix this problem of disenfranchisement, on how to present the issue in ways that could reach the people and the politicians.
Here is the segment in question on how ex-felons are permanently disenfranchised in some states.
They brought up the 'felon trap' that Republicans in Florida seem to have set, which has been reported in The Nation and Colorlines, where ex-felons are receiving mixed messages from the state. Mailings about being registered voters with ID cards, and other mailings telling them their right to vote has been taken away. This could result in some people trying to vote who technically should not, thanks to Rick Scott and his conservative cohorts. This may give Republicans what they've been looking for, some examples of voter fraud, even if the Republicans' own incompetence at administering the state of Florida is the cause.
This is the word from Yvette Lewis from the NAACP, as she explains the quandary these folks have been put in by the GOP.
One woman has a voter identification card that shows she registered to vote on Feb. 7, 2012, and reads “You are currently eligible to vote in Hillsborough County.” But she also has a letter from the county dated March 7 that states, “The Hillsborough County Supervisor of Elections office has received information from the State of Florida that you have been convicted of a felony and your civil rights permitting you to vote have not been restored at this time.” The letter includes a “Voter Acceptance or Denial” form that she must fill out and send back or she will be permanently removed from voter rolls. Lewis shows me a half-dozen other files of people with the same set of conflicting documents from the county.Melissa Harris-Perry had Brentin Mock, the author of the article from Colorlines, on to talk about the particular mess in Florida. The panel also discussed the different voter purges in Florida and how, in their urge to purge ex-felons, their purges caught up folks who never even committed such a crime. How the frequent changes in the law close to the election causes much confusion (like they're seeing in Pennsylvania with their frequent tweaking of the voter ID law there).
“These people are getting voter cards—what do we do with them?” Lewis says. She pulls up another guy’s file: “Like this guy right here. He knows he’s a felon. He says, ‘Do I vote, Ms. Yvette, or what?’ So we were thinking, ‘What if it’s a setup?’ They go vote, and then it’s a huge argument to say after the election: ‘Voter fraud! We told you—voter fraud.’”
Past the halfway point in the video, Melissa moves the discussion to why it is that such disenfranchisement is seen as proper in the first place. Rep. Gwen Moore (D-WI) mentions a pernicious sort of practice where federal dollars are diverted away from the cities where people may live to the outlying communities where they are imprisoned, rewarding whiter rural communities for the presence of African-American prisoners.
The entire discussion was fascinating to me, and I'm watching it again to take notes here. Around the six-minute mark in the video is where Ari Melber from The Nation relates the argument about post-imprisonment restrictions for public safety -- restricting where someone goes based on their criminal habits, or placing restrictions on gun ownership for a violent ex-felon. But that public safety reasoning clearly does not apply to the right to vote. Ari compares this right to the right to free speech; what would it look like if we forbade someone from speaking in public? "That would feel un-American, this is as un-American," he says.
I tend to agree, and I think the case must be made against this disenfranchisement. Not because I know anyone who has been, not for any particular stake I have on the issue, I don't; I'm fortunate enough, privileged enough, that this problem does not touch my life or anyone I know. What purpose does it serve, this disenfranchisement? Because there is no connection to making society safer to be found here.