Commentary

Republicans are targeting innocent Black voters. Here’s how | Michael Coard

There’s a new Jim Crow when it comes to voting. Here’s how to make your voice heard at the polls

October 26, 2022 6:30 am

(Photo by John McCosh/Georgia Recorder).

Racist Americans used the “Slave” Codes to make it illegal for enslaved Blacks to vote. Racist Americans used the Black Codes and Jim Crow laws to make it nearly impossible for free Blacks to vote. Racist Republicans use gerrymandered districts to make it basically ineffectual for Blacks to vote. Racist Republicans use discriminatory “Voter ID” laws to make it frustratingly difficult for Blacks to vote.

And racist Republicans are now using various state crimes codes to arrest innocent Black people for voting. As bad as that is, what’s worse is that those “anti-Black voter” state crimes codes are designed to have a chilling effect on all Black voters who might be misled into believing that a parking violation or speeding ticket or child support debt or expired voter registration card or dozens of other minor issues render them ineligible to register and to vote. But such issues do not render anyone ineligible. Even most serious crimes from the past do not render anyone ineligible.

However, racist Republicans such as Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis are locking up many innocent Black voters and scaring many innocent potential voters.

On Aug. 18, he announced the arrest of 20 persons accused of illegally voting in 2020. And he made sure to highlight the fact that those particular persons previously had been convicted of the horrific crimes of murder or rape/sexual assault. DeSantis maliciously mentioned that provocative “Willie Horton-type” point in order to make the public despise those persons, thereby justifying those persons’ disenfranchisement and resultant voter-related arrests. But he never mentioned that each of these person had paid their debt to society, had become law-abiding citizens and had new reputations for being productive members of society.

And, most important, he never mentioned that all 20 were innocent because they were never officially and formally notified that they were ineligible to vote under Florida’s brand new (draconian) law. In other words, the pertinent Florida statute requires certain mandatory steps to be followed by elections officials before any person can be charged with voter fraud.

Specifically, Section 98.0751(3)(a) and (b) of the 2022 Florida Statutes not only requires state officials to “obtain and review information … related to a person who registers to vote and make an initial determination on whether such information is credible and reliable regarding whether the person is eligible ….” But also requires those officials to notify “A local supervisor of elections … [to] verify and make a final determination … regarding whether the person who registers to vote is eligible ….”

And Section (4) points out that “For the purpose of determining a voter registrant’s eligibility, the provisions of this section shall be ‘strictly construed.’ If a provision is susceptible to differing interpretations, it shall be construed in favor of the registrant.”

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Do you know what all that fancy technical legal jargon in Section (4) means? It means if there’s any possible misunderstanding by the voter or any possible error by state officials, the voter is definitely not guilty. That’s exactly what it means!

Well, that’s exactly what happened to Romona Oliver. She’s the woman shown above in the screenshot of the Tampa Police Department’s body cam video. After having served nearly 20 years following a second-degree murder conviction, she became an upstanding citizen in her community. During her arrest, Oliver honestly declared, “I voted, but I ain’t commit no fraud.”

In an Oct. 19 story, CNN spoke with Oliver’s pro bono attorney, Mark Rankin, and reported that:

“Oliver was approached at the bus stop one day on the way to work by someone registering voters, and she told them she was a [convicted] felon. The person then told Oliver that she could fill out the form and if she was eligible, she would get a voter registration card and if she wasn’t eligible, she wouldn’t get the card.

Oliver received a voter registration card in the mail. She went to the Department of Motor Vehicles office later to get a new driver’s license and was sent an updated voter registration card with her new address, according to Rankin … [who said] ‘She was twice told by the State of Florida and the local Supervisor of Elections, Here’s your voter registration card. You are, as far as we’re concerned, legally eligible to vote. And so she voted and she was shocked when she was arrested.’”

If you think her arrest was outrageous, you ain’t seen nothin’ yet. As documented by the ACLU, “A patchwork of state felony disenfranchisement laws, varying in severity from state to state, prevent approximately 5.85 million Americans with felony (and in several states misdemeanor) convictions from voting. Confusion about and misapplication of these laws de facto disenfranchise countless other Americans.”

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In most states- especially Pennsylvania- former inmates, better known as “returning citizens,” are generally permitted to vote. However, they must check with their state’s election officials to find out for sure if they are legally eligible to vote. And if they don’t know who to contact to find out, they can email me at [email protected] or call my ATAC organization at (215) 552-8751.

For more and detailed information about voting rights for citizens who have been convicted of any crime in any state, log on to https://www.aclu.org/issues/voting-rights/voter-restoration/felony-disenfranchisement-laws-map

And then, if they are eligible to vote, they MUST vote! Here are at least three great reasons why:

  1. There’s a war going on to take away Black people’s right to vote. And the fundamental rule of warfare is to find out what your enemy doesn’t want you to do and then you do that very thing. If your enemy doesn’t want you to attack by air, then you send your Air Force. If your enemy doesn’t want you to attack by sea, then you send your Navy. If your enemy doesn’t want you to attack by land, then you send your Army. Racist Republicans do not want Blacks to vote. That’s precisely why Republicans in nearly every state legislature across the country have, as of Feb. 19, 2021, carried over, pre-filed or introduced at least 253 bills with provisions that restrict voting access in 43 states.
  2. Thousands of our Black ancestors, including the heroic Philadelphia martyr Octavius Catto, didn’t merely die in their selfless crusade for our voting rights. Instead, they were murdered by white Americans in that crusade.
  3. Potential jurors are called for jury duty in part as a result of being on registered voter lists. Therefore, in addition to electing law-making officials, law-executing officials, law-interpreting officials, and law-enforcing officials, you – as a juror – can be a justice-imposing official

Vote like your life – as well as your liberty – depends on it. Because it does.

This column first appeared in the Philadelphia Tribune, a publishing partner of the Pennsylvania Capital-Star. 

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Michael Coard
Michael Coard

Opinion contributor Michael Coard, an attorney and radio host, is a columnist for the Philadelphia Tribune. His work appears on Tuesdays on the Capital-Star’s Commentary Page. Readers may follow him on Twitter @michaelcoard.

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