The Sunshine State has the harshest voting restrictions in the country, but a new constitutional amendment could change that if enough people vote for it.
There’s a lot to make fun of about Florida, John Oliver noted on Sunday’s episode of Last Week Tonight before starting a montage of news clips featuring Florida men walking goats in the rain and steering motorcycles with their feet. But according to Oliver, the single most embarrassing aspect of life in the Sunshine State is the sheer number of citizens who aren’t allowed to vote there.
Florida has some of the harshest felony disenfranchisement laws in the country, with the result that around 1.5 million of the state’s citizens (or 10 percent of the adult population, including one in five black adults) cannot vote due to past felony convictions, despite having served out their sentences. With his typically British perspective, Oliver noted that these people are therefore suffering “taxation without representation,” the original rallying cry of the American Revolution.
“Historically, that’s been a bit of a sticking point for America,” Oliver said. “I’m pretty sure I learned about that in school. Something about how the American savages threw tea into the water without even having the common decency to add a splash of milk.”
Oliver explained that the reason Florida’s disenfranchised population is so high is that the state’s process for restoring voting rights is uniquely harsh. Florida’s current Republican governor, Rick Scott (“seen here auditioning for the role of Happy Pencil in all my nightmares,” per Oliver), made the process more difficult after he came into office. Under his system, convicts are required to wait five-to-seven years after finishing their sentence before they can apply to get their rights back, an application that requires traveling to Tallahassee to make their case in person before a four-person panel including Scott. Needless to say, there aren’t many success stories.
This fall, Scott’s re-election bid is being challenged by Democratic candidate Andrew Gillum. But that’s not all; there’s also a constitutional amendment on the ballot in Florida that would make the restoration of voting rights automatic for non-violent offenders after completing their sentences. It requires at least a 60-percent majority to pass, so Oliver transformed his desk into a neon-colored, flamingo-draped Florida parody in order to make a direct appeal to the state’s residents.
“I know that we make fun of you a lot, Florida, because of all the stupid things that happen where you live, and you’re probably expecting me to steer away from all that and appeal to your innate goodness and sense of reason, but I’m not going to do that,” Oliver said. “Instead, I’m going to double down and suggest that it’s because of that glorious stupidity that you should appreciate the value of second chances. I mean come on, Florida. You’re Florida!”
After reciting even more goofy Florida headlines, Oliver concluded, “The point is, Florida, this November you have got a real chance to remedy a mistake and do something genuinely good for over a million of your citizens. So please, on Nov. 6, for just one day, don’t take your goat for a walk in your underwear, stay away from any bite-y otters, draw a fake beard on yourself and go cast a vote on behalf of all your fellow Floridians who are unable to.”
Watch the full video above.