With the expected resumption of the National Basketball Association on Thursday, following last weekend’s opening of the 2020 Women’s National Basketball Association season, many Black professional athletes returning to sports in the United States are using the moment to fight voter suppression.
Last month, a group of athletes and artists including Skylar Diggins-Smith of the Phoenix Mercury and LeBron James of the Los Angeles Lakers launched More Than a Vote, an organization dedicated to registering people to vote and raising awareness about attacks on voting rights. According to the American Civil Liberties Union, one in thirteen Black Americans cannot vote due to disenfranchisement laws.
One of the first initiatives of More Than a Vote was to donate $100,000 to the Florida Rights Restoration Coalition to help pay outstanding fines and fees for people with felonies seeking to vote in Florida.
The donation followed a US Supreme Court order that left in place a federal appeals court’s stay of a trial court ruling that held unconstitutional a Florida scheme that prevents Floridians with felony convictions from voting if they still owed fines, fees, and restitution and are too poor to pay. The appeals court stay prevented hundreds of thousands of people with felony convictions from voting in Florida’s primary elections earlier this month, and threatens to bar them from voting on Election Day in November.
The Supreme Court ruling follows the State of Florida’s attack on Amendment 4, a ballot measure that Florida voters overwhelmingly passed in 2018. The amendment lifted a voting ban on 1.4 million Florida citizens with felony convictions who had completed their criminal sentences. However, in June 2019 the Florida legislature undermined the intent of the amendment by passing SB 7066, a bill that required these same citizens to pay all of their legal financial obligations before they could vote.
More Than a Vote’s efforts to effectively pay for US citizens to be allowed to vote highlights not only a growing interest in social justice among many professional athletes, but also the extremes to which Florida’s legislature has gone to disenfranchise its own residents. An eligible person should be able to cast a ballot in a free and fair election regardless of their own personal wealth, and not have to depend on the charity of professional athletes.
As Justice Sonia Sotomayor wrote in her dissent to the Supreme Court decision, “This court’s order prevents thousands of otherwise eligible voters from participating in Florida’s primary election simply because they are poor.”