President Barack Obama gave a powerful eulogy for Congressman John Lewis, urging all of us to act by exercising our hard-earned right to vote: “As long as young people are protesting in the streets, hoping real change takes hold, I’m hopeful but we cannot casually abandon them at the ballot box.
Not when few elections have been as urgent, on so many levels, as this one. We cannot treat voting as an errand to run if we have some time. We have to treat it as the most important action we can take on behalf of democracy.”
The deaths of George Floyd, Breonna Taylor, and Ahmoud Arbery this year has energized people across the country. The greatest fear I have for the upcoming August 18th election is that those of us who showed up to march for justice may not bring that same energy to the polls. 2020 is a banner year for voting rights: it has been 150 years since Black men gained the right to vote and 100 years since women gained the right to vote.
Yet as President Obama points out, the battle continues to keep us from voting by inciting fear and cynicism, to keep us from believing we can make a difference. Fear and cynicism are two tools that work in tandem to suppress the vote.
In 2018, the people of Florida overwhelmingly supported Amendment 4, a constitutional amendment to restore the civil rights of citizens who were convicted of a felony and have since completed their sentence. Since Amendment 4 passed, Republicans in the Florida Legislature and the DeSantis administration have worked hard to make it confusing for our returning citizens to know if it is legal for them to participate in this upcoming election. Those who oppose Amendment 4 will eventually lose this battle.
But in the meantime, how many votes will they block? Their maneuvers suppress the vote by arousing cynicism in the activists who worked hard to pass Amendment 4 and arousing fear in the returning citizens who are not sure if they are allowed to vote. This example of voter suppression in Florida should motivate us, even more, to get to the polls and cast our vote.
President Obama urged us to remember John Lewis’s words: “If you don’t do everything you can to change things, then they will remain the same. You only pass this way once. You have to give it all you have.”
Joe Scott is a current Democratic candidate for Broward County Supervisor of Elections. Visit https://www.electjoescott.com/ to learn more.