This following statement was released Oct. 29 by Steve Warshell, Socialist Workers Party candidate for U.S. Senate from Florida.
The Socialist Workers Party calls on all working people and supporters of democratic rights to vote Nov. 6 in favor of Amendment 4 to restore the right to vote for many Florida workers who have served time on felony convictions. Over 1 million people signed petitions to place the amendment to the state constitution on the ballot, reflecting the depth of support for the measure. To pass, Florida law requires a supermajority of 60 percent of the vote.
More than 10 percent of Florida’s adult population is barred from being able to vote. This includes 23 percent of the state’s African-Americans.
After workers behind bars get out of prison today, they have to wait at least five years before they can even apply to Florida’s Office of Executive Clemency to get their voting rights back. It takes years before petitions are heard and there’s a growing waiting list.
Since 2011, the number of disenfranchised convicted felons living in Florida has increased by almost 150,000 to over 1.6 million. Nationally, laws that restrict the franchise for ex-felons prohibit more than 6 million people from voting.
In February, federal Judge Mark Walker ruled Florida’s lifetime ban on voting for felons — part of the Florida Constitution for 150 years — is a violation of the U.S. Constitution’s protections against government interference with free association and speech, due process and equal protection under the law.
Workers behind bars are no different from fellow workers outside prison walls. We are all part of the working class and confront the same growing political and moral crisis of capitalism. Current and former prisoners have an equal stake in our class’s battle to overturn capitalist rule and take political power into our own hands.
To fight effectively we need to unite working people to break down the divisions the bosses promote between employed and unemployed; immigrant and native-born; Black, Caucasian and Hispanic; and between those of us who’ve been thrown in jail and those who haven’t.
The U.S. rulers imprison more working people than any other country in the world. Workers are run through the U.S. criminal “justice” system, with over 90 percent pressured to accept a plea-bargain road to prison. This is under threat of more draconian sentences if we exercise our constitutional right to a trial.
In recent years, more crimes have been designated as felonies and the population of workers behind bars has soared.
Prisoners face growing restrictions on what they can read, as shown by censorship of the Militant newspaper that the SWP helps distribute. They suffer conditions geared to assaulting their dignity, and have a long record of abuse by prison authorities. Then when they get out, the rulers’ bar their right to vote.
The ruling class has historically looked for ways to restrict workers and farmers from voting. It took a revolution in 1776 to win male suffrage. The Civil War ended slavery and extended the vote to the former slaves. Struggles were needed to win the vote for women. And a massive proletarian Black-led civil rights movement was needed to destroy Jim Crow segregation and win passage of the Voting Rights Act. This struggle also led to winning the vote for 18 year olds.
In the carnage workers face today the capitalist rulers make us pay for the crisis of their decaying capitalist system. The fight against the injustices of their criminal justice system and efforts to restrict our rights are in the interests of all workers.
The fight in Florida to push back restrictions on the franchise are an important part of advancing the unity and fighting capacity of the working class. Vote “yes” on Amendment 4!