There were many factors leading to the infamous Bush v. Gore Supreme Court decision that awarded the loser of the popular vote, George W. Bush, the office of the presidency. But did you know that if marijuana had been legal in Florida, Vice President Al Gore would have easily won the Electoral College and there never would have been a Bush v. Gore?
The reasoning is based on Florida’s draconian penalties for marijuana possession. It takes just 21 grams – a mere 3/4 ounce – to trigger felony penalties for possession.
When you get a felony record in Florida, you lose your right to vote. After serving your prison, parole, and probation time, a felon must then wait five years before they may beg an executive committee for their right to vote, over which the governor has a veto. There is such a backlog in requests and so few granted that almost all felons have lost their right to vote for life. Iowa and Kentucky stand with Florida as the only states with similar permanent disenfranchisement for felons.
Just a few months before the 2000 Election, a suit was filed that became Johnson v. Bush. It argued that Florida’s felon voting ban was unconstitutional under the 14th and 15th Amendments. In 2005, the 11th Circuit Court of Appeals upheld Florida’s felon voting ban.
Former Gov. Charlie Crist in 2007 reformed the rules somewhat by granting automatic restoration of voting rights after completing the sentence for certain felonies. After a year, over 115,000 felons had their right to vote restored.
But his successor, Gov. Rick Scott, in 2011 not only reversed Crist’s reforms, he made the ban even stricter.* Scott ensured that even non-violent felons had to endure the five-year waiting period and that any misdemeanor arrest restarted the clock, even if no charges were ever filed, much less a guilty conviction reached by a judge or jury.
The ban may be on its last legs, though. This February, a District Court judge ruled Florida’s standards are unconstitutional under the 1st and 14th Amendments. How that case will fare under appeal is unknown, but this November, the people may render the case moot. Floridians will vote this election to amend their constitution to automatically restore voting rights to felons who have completed their sentences.
Back in 2000, that unbelievable election found the sitting vice president of a popular two-term Democratic administration presiding over a budget surplus and the best economy in a generation, Al Gore, losing to the second-dumbest governor in Texas history, George W. Bush, when the Supreme Court halted the recount in Florida, the state where his brother Jeb was governor, with Bush ahead by 537 votes.
Darryl Paulson, an emeritus professor of government at University of South Florida-St. Petersburg, was reported by the Orlando Sentinel as saying that “most former felons tend to support Democrats, [but] studies have shown only a third of former felons would register if allowed. Only about a fifth would actually ever vote.”
A substantial reason for that partisanship is that a disproportionate number of former felons are going to be black. One-in-three (33 percent) African-American males has a felony record. Almost half (48 percent) of the disenfranchised felons in the United States reside in Florida.
In 2000, nationally, nine-in-ten African-Americans voted for Al Gore. Clearly, the population of former felons who existed in 2000 would have provided more than 537 Democratic votes that would’ve won the state, and thus the presidency, for the vice president.
But would legal marijuana by itself have made enough of a dent to have elected Gore? Consider that in 2000, there were 116,912 drug arrests in Florida. Nationally, about half of all drug arrests are for marijuana (I can’t find precise Florida figures), or, I’ll estimate roughly 58,000 marijuana arrests.
Most of those arrests will be for misdemeanor (below 21 gram) amounts. Presuming that what could have reasonably been legal would have been an ounce of marijuana possession, then legal marijuana would have saved the voting rights of people who got felonies for between 21 and 28 grams of marijuana in Florida.
How many votes that would be is difficult to tell. Many of them won’t be African-American. Some of them would have been busted after the election in November. But knowing that blacks are about four times more likely to be busted for weed and 90 percent likely to vote Democratic, it seems to me legal weed would have elected Al Gore. I only need 0.46 percent of Florida’s 2000 drug arrests to be black Democratic voters caught with 21 to 28 grams to be right, and that’s just presuming legal weed starting in Florida in 2000; every year earlier would have been another set of Democratic-leaning voters who would’ve spared us the presidency of George W. Bush.
Modern marijuana prohibition was borne from Nixon’s effort to suppress left-leaning political movements. It’s effect on suppressing Democratic votes is an undeniable practice that gave us the second-dumbest president in American history. It’s nice to see that some Democrats are finally figuring this out.
* May I propose that henceforth, should it be necessary to quantify exactly how large a bag of douche to which one is making a comparison, the unit of measurement should be a “Rickscott?”