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Opinion: What Florida's attack on voting rights is really about

If you believe that, I have some prime Florida swampland to sell you.
Chris KingChris King
Attacking the right to vote is not a new strategy. Unfortunately, Florida has been ahead of the national trend on voter disenfranchisement for some time, and leads the country in people unable to vote, according to a recent study. In 2015, my father, David King, led — and won — the legal challenge against Florida’s gerrymandered congressional and legislative districts, giving way to a fairer electoral map, and with it, the election of a diverse new generation of leaders in our state. As a result of that case, GOP leaders in Florida were forced to admit that they deliberately undermined the will of the people and violated the constitution by drawing politically-motivated districts.
In recent years, Florida Republicans have been back at it, working harder than ever to systematically erode voting opportunities for Black and brown voters through limited early voting and prohibitively long lines in non-White neighborhoods and the multiyear effort by DeSantis and his allies to disembowel Amendment 4, the popular and bipartisan citizen initiative passed in 2018 to re-enfranchise millions of Floridians who lost their right to vote under the state’s racist felon disenfranchisement scheme.
The threat to US democracy goes beyond voter suppressionThe threat to US democracy goes beyond voter suppression
If there was any question about how hypocritical and partisan these efforts have been, let this latest move erase all doubt. For decades, expansive and uncomplicated voting by mail has been the main strategy for GOP dominance in Florida politics. Republicans spent years promoting mail ballots as a convenient and secure way to vote for Florida’s seniors, but now they want to restrict that method, too. Why the sudden change of heart? Simple: a lot more Democrats — specifically Black and brown voters — started voting by mail.
It really is that basic. This law is a calculated effort to whiten up the electorate and dismantle the more accessible and convenient forms of voting that Black and brown voters have come to embrace. They know that if they make it harder for non-White people to vote, Republicans are more likely to win, as White voters in the state are overwhelmingly Republican, according to the James Madison Institute. And win, they have. In 2020, Republicans grew to near-supermajority status in the state legislature, picked up two congressional seats, and despite losing nationally, Donald Trump achieved the largest win in Florida for a presidential candidate in 16 years.
But winning is not enough for today’s GOP. They believe if it ain’t broke, break it. The slide to authoritarianism is a nationwide problem, but in a state home to many Americans who escaped autocratic regimes in Cuba, Venezuela, and elsewhere, there’s a particularly cruel irony to the anti-democracy tactics and outright betrayal of American values by the very same Republicans who campaign on platitudes about protecting freedom.
Arizona's dangerous vote audit includes a hunt for bambooArizona's dangerous vote audit includes a hunt for bamboo
As the running mate of Florida’s first Black major party gubernatorial nominee in 2018, I saw firsthand how deliberate the efforts were to limit Black access to the voting booth. What saddened me then, and angers me most still, is just how few white voices step forward to fight these injustices.
On the campaign trail, I often said that politics is about more than changing laws, it is about changing hearts. Dad always taught me that if elections were fair, justice and opportunity for all would percolate up through the power of the vote. He was right, and thanks to some amazing nonprofit groups and legal experts, this latest attack on voting rights is already being challenged in court, too. But we shouldn’t have to sue our way out of this mess every few years.
So what can we do about it? Fight. And demand others do, too.
Too many of us with white skin stand idly by while Black and brown Americans have their rights and dignity robbed from them in the false name of “election security.” It is well past time that people with influence — platforms, power, money — finally step up and say enough is enough.
Earlier this year we saw many large companies, like Coca-Cola and Delta, speak out against new voting restrictions in Georgia. Florida’s business leaders must do even more. Theme parks, cruise lines, professional sports teams, and many other major companies in our state make public statements about diversity and caring for their communities while giving millions of dollars in contributions to the very politicians who attack Floridians and undermine the will of the people they purportedly serve
Until these politicians suffer real consequences for their actions, they will continue to get more and more extreme in their determination to hold on to power. As long as these influential companies and business leaders stay silent — or worse, reward this bad behavior — they are a part of the problem.
If he were still with us, my dad would have been saddened by this terrible new law. He would have grieved for the continued decline of our democracy and mourned for the people harmed by this inhumanity. And then he would get back up, make a plan, and join the fight — because if we don’t, who will?
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