In the latest dispatch from the Republican Party's war on democracy, allies of President Donald Trump are pushing a ballot initiative in Florida that would amend the state constitution to specify that "only" U.S. citizens may vote in elections. Their goal is to get the measure on the November 2020 ballot—right when the battleground state's 29 electoral votes will again be pivotal to winning the White House.
At the moment, Florida's constitution, like most state constitutions, allows "every citizen" of the United States to cast a vote, provided that they are permanent Florida residents who are at least 18 years old and registered with the Florida Department of State. The proposed initiative would tweak the language of Article VI, Section 2 to provide that only such a citizen may vote. According to the Florida Division of Elections, supporters have obtained about one-third of the 766,200 signatures required to get it on the ballot. John Loudon, a Republican apparatchik who chairs the group behind the proposal—an outfit called Florida Citizen Voters—claimed earlier this month to have amassed a total of 1.5 million signatures, about half of which are still awaiting verification from the relevant state officials.
Florida Citizen Voters' sole donor, according to state campaign finance records, is Citizen Voters, Inc., also chaired by John Loudon, which has given almost $4.7 million in monetary and in-kind contributions since the beginning of this year. Neither state nor federal law require Citizen Voters, Inc. to disclose where any of this money came from.
Semantically, there isn't much of a difference between enfranchising "every" member of a given class and "only" members of a given class. Florida governor Ron DeSantis, who has not endorsed the initiative, told the Washington Post via a spokesperson that it is already illegal in the state for non-citizens to vote. Yet Loudon asserts that the "only" construction makes clear that the electorate's definition is exclusive, and that such a clarification, redundant though it may seem, is necessary to prohibit local governments from allowing non-citizens to vote in their local elections. A few U.S. municipalities, including San Francisco, Chicago, and several towns in Massachusetts, have allowed or do allow non-citizens to participate in this limited context. According to the Post's report, there are about a dozen such jurisdictions scattered across the country; none of them are in Florida, and no place in Florida has even proposed to follow suit.
Loudon and his wife, Gina, are nonetheless working hard to make sure this remains true. Both Loudons are prominent figures in the extended MAGAsphere. A former Missouri state legislator, John came under fire in 2018 while acting as an advisor to the Trump-affiliated nonprofit America First Policies, after CNN uncovered a host of racist and Islamophobic comments on social media. (Loudon once referred to then-President Barack Obama the "Islamchurian Candidate," and endorsed the racist conspiracy theory that Obama was born outside the United States.)
Gina, meanwhile, is a Women for Trump co-chair who appears frequently on Fox News and serves on the president's "media advisory board." The pair are Mar-a-Lago members who often play up their personal friendships with Trump while promoting their personal brands. Gina's most recent book, Mad Politics: Keeping Your Sanity in a World Gone Crazy, purports to contain evidence that Trump is "the most sound-minded person to ever occupy the White House." Back in November, this positioning earned her a book plug from the president.
Both parties have use the popular support for ballot initiatives to goose turnout among likely voters. Some experts, for example, believe state-level initiatives banning same-sex marriage motivated social conservatives to swing the 2004 presidential election to George W. Bush.
The Loudons' enthusiasm for their mission here also has less to do with real-world election security concerns than it does with facilitating Republican wins at the ballot box. “This is clearly a very mobilizing issue in Florida,” Susan MacManus, a politics professor emeritus with the University of South Florida, told the Washington Post. “Clearly, the purpose is not only making a statement about immigration but to turn out the vote of Republicans and Republican-leaning voters.” The couple is working closely with Tim Mooney, an Arizona-based GOP strategist who told the Post that the Florida proposal is part of a larger nationwide effort to push citizen-only amendments in battleground states, including Alabama, Colorado, Maine, Nevada, and Ohio.
This proposed constitutional amendment is the latest escalation in the fight for Florida, where the importance of winning the state in presidential election years makes it a hotbed for Republican-backed disenfranchisement efforts. In 2018, Floridians restored the voting rights of some 1.4 million ex-felons by passing Amendment 4. Fearful of the potential impact on their future electoral prospects, DeSantis and his fellow Republicans in the legislature responded by passing a law requiring ex-felons to pay court costs for the privilege of casting a ballot—in effect, a poll tax not imposed on anyone else. Now, Trump-affiliated activists are engaging in a parallel effort to frighten voters into believing that immigrants have placed the democratic process in danger—and that supporting Republican politicians and causes is the only way to save it.
Originally Appeared on GQ