Florida Politics via Political State Report passes along a big piece of news from Florida:
Believe it or not, there is a bipartisan push to restore the right of felons to vote in Florida. Back in December, Bush and the Cabinet made limited changes to the state's complicated clemency process. However, led by the the state's leading newspapers' editorial boards ... there has been a push to eliminate altogether the prohibition against felons voting.

To that end, in January, two "powerful Republican lawmakers", State Sen. Steven Wise, R-Jacksonville, and Senate Majority Leader Alex Villalobos, R-Miami, began urging Bush "to restore civil rights to felons who have completed their sentences -- and have vowed to support a voter referendum to end Florida's 137-year-old ban altogether if the governor refuses."
The Report adds that the American Correctional Association, the nation's largest group of corrections workers, has added their might to the cause, stating that a "ban on voting after a felon is discharged ... (is) contradictory to the goals of a democracy, the rehabilitation of felons and their successful re-entry to the community."

If it happens, this would be a landmark victory not only for civil rights, but for progressive politics.

Felon disenfranchisement laws were enacted in the 1890s almost solely for the purpose of stripping African Americans (and poor whites) of the vote. That's the objective role they still play today: of the almost 5 million citizens nationally with felony convictions who are denied the franchise, 40% are African American. In Florida alone, up to 600,000 citizens who have served their time have no voting rights.

This mass lock-out of blacks and the poor from the voting booth has had a direct impact on the balance of political power, especially in the South, where felon disenfranchisement laws are most severe.

In a 2002 study, sociologists Jeff Manza and Christopher Uggen found at least seven U.S. Senate elections since 1978 that would likely have gone Democratic if ex-felons had not been denied the vote, but instead were won by Republicans. They also conclude that, if Florida did not bar ex-felons from voting, Al Gore would have been sitting in the White House the last four years.

In a way, Democrats have only themselves to blame. In the 1990s, President Clinton and the Democratic Leadership Council set were all too willing to embrace a "get tough on crime" agenda in the hopes of winning over fearful suburban swing voters.

The result of these policies was a soaring U.S. prison population -- and mass disenfranchisement of potential Democratic voters. As Georgetown University Law Professor David Cole told USA Today in 2000:
"The drug war and felony disenfranchisement have done more to turn away black voters than anything since the poll tax."
In the face of this dismal history, Florida's bi-partisan effort is a hopeful development.