The Signal: Late last week, US District Court Judge Robert Hinkle penned a hugely significant ruling on voting rights in Florida. At issue was a GOP-led effort to sabotage Amendment 4, a ballot initiative passed in 2018 that ended the state’s notorious system of permanent disenfranchisement of those with felony convictions—which had kept more than 1 million residents disenfranchised.
But this past June, Florida Governor Ron DeSantis signed into law a bill passed by the GOP-controlled legislature massively curtailing the amendment by requiring that all financial penalties associated with the original sentence, including court costs and fees converted into civil penalties, be paid off before ex-felons could apply to get their vote restored.
The ACLU, the NAACP, the League of Women Voters of Florida, and others filed suit, and Hinkle’s preliminary injunction last week found that while the state could require payment from people with the means to pay, it could not deny voting rights to those too poor to pay their fees, as that would constitute a modern-day poll tax. It’s a huge victory for voting-rights advocates and will likely result in the largest expansion of a Southern state’s voter rolls in decades.
But that good news comes amid a welter of bad news. Take, for example, the lawsuit filed last week by the conservative Wisconsin Institute for Law and Liberty. If successful, it will force the state to purge from its rolls nearly a quarter of a million infrequent voters who have moved since the last election and not replied to mailings from the state’s elections commission. Lest anyone doubt the impact, remember that Trump won Wisconsin in 2016 by a mere 23,000 votes. A similar voter purge is ongoing in Ohio.
And on Monday the Supreme Court overturned a lower-court ruling that would have forced Michigan to redraw electoral maps that had been gerrymandered to favor the GOP. This follows a similar court decision two weeks ago allowing Ohio’s gerrymandered districts to stand. In both instances, the court reasoned that fixing gerrymandering was a political rather than a judicial responsibility.
That means the only way gerrymandering will be ended in states like Ohio is if the GOP—its majorities essentially cemented into place there by the practice—voluntarily does so. That’s about as likely as Trump voluntarily knocking down his own border wall.
We are in an epic battle not only to protect voting rights but also to preserve the weight of our votes once they are cast. The GOP has stacked the deck so that a minority of voters in key states now choose a majority of state legislators and US congressional representatives. At the same time, a minority of voters has chosen, via the Electoral College, the president in two of the last six elections. And a minority of voters, in mainly rural states, routinely chooses a majority of US senators—with those senators securing a conservative Supreme Court majority that dilutes voting rights, allows gerrymandering, and thus further undermines democracy.
It’s high time Democrats embrace structural reforms: to make gerrymandering illegal, to ensure the Senate is weighted more fairly, to abolish the Electoral College, and to expand the Supreme Court to neutralize the impact of Senate majority leader Mitch McConnell’s scandalous refusal to hold hearings for Barack Obama’s last court nominee. Without these changes, despite having majorities of the electorate on their side on policy issue after policy issue, progressives will face an uphill climb for generations.
And the Noise? Just tune in to Trump’s Twitter feed.