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Alienation and Suppression in Florida

The 2020 Presidential election in Florida is likely the most competitive in the nation. Its large allocation of electoral votes, 29, makes it valuable to both political parties. Biden and Trump are running neck-and-neck with polls showing each just below the 50% mark. Florida’s diverse ethnic demographics, high percentage of Independent voters and close party breakdown coupled with the onslaught of a pandemic makes voter trends complex to predict. Further, since the 2016 election there have been many important events in Florida that are expected to affect the outcome of the election.

In the 2016 general election, 71% of registered voters came out to cast ballets. Trump beat Hillary by 113,000 votes. The expanding 65 and older age group has consistently been the most reliable votes. In 2016, 53 percent of this age group supported Trump. Recent polling suggests that Trump is losing their backing. A CNN poll showed Trump winning 39 percent of the age group, compared to 60 percent for Biden. Two factors seem to be responsible for this shift; Covid-19 and Trumpism. To date 79 percent of the Covid deaths in Florida, 163,968, have been in the 65 and above age group. Trump’s handling of the pandemic including denying and trivializing it, his inaction, the notion that their life is not as valuable as a younger and healthier person have all led to the seniors feeling vulnerable and isolated. Many have also realized that Trump does not fit the typical conservative mold of fiscal responsibility and core republican beliefs.

In Florida people convicted of a felony effectively lost their right to vote for life. In 2018 voters approved Amendment 4 to the constitution which allowed people convicted of felony (except murder or sexual offenses) to regain their voting rights after completion of their sentence. However, in 2019, Republicans in the Florida state legislature enacted bill to require felons to pay off their fees before they regained their right to vote. In May 2020 a judge found the bill unconstitutional for those unable to pay or unable to find out how much they owe. This was again overturned in September, 2020. In Florida 1.6 million people are deprived of their right to vote because of current or previous conviction, this accounts for 10 percent of voters. Many of these are African Americans and presumed to be Democratic. In September 2020, Michael Bloomberg and the FRRC paid the outstanding fines for 32,000 felons so they could vote in the 2020 elections.

In 2019 Republican Governor Ron DeSantis was accused by the Florida Democrats of voter suppression. DeSantis shut down the voter registration site just before National Registration Day, when local businesses hold drives to recruit and register people to vote. Last year they had successfully recruited 800,000 people. Similarly, on October 6, 2020 the last day to register in Florida, the registration website shut down. Florida officials contributed it to high volume of users. After much backlash Governor DeSantis extended the deadline by a few hours.

More recently, on October 20, emails were sent to Democratic voters that appear to be aimed at intimidating them into voting for President Trump. Initially these emails were thought to be sent by the Proud Boys, a far right extremist group with ties to white nationalism. However, new information being released by U.S. officials indicates that Iran is responsible for the emails with the intent to sow unrest in Florida.

In recent times Presidential elections in Florida have been close. The most memorable outcome was in 2000, when George W. Bush won by 500 votes against Al Gore. When you have paper thin margins, every vote matters even more. Events leading to the 2020 election: attempts to suppress votes, propagate misinformation about voter fraud, and weakening of Amendment 4 undermine the election and sets disturbing precedents which will have detrimental consequences for democracy and our country.

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