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John Oliver makes a direct appeal to Floridians about voting rights on Last Week Tonight

John Oliver
Screenshot: Last Week Tonight

Last Week Tonight returned on Sunday night after taking multiple weeks of nights off from comedically dissecting the exact manner in which we are thoroughly and irretrievably fucked. Take the upcoming, ridiculously vital midterm elections in November, where the cartoonishly corrupt Republican Party is really outdoing itself in the “our ideas are complete, unpalatable shit, so we have to keep as many people from voting as possible” arena. What with racial gerrymandering, attempts to close poll stations in majority black communities, refusing to secure elections from outside (Russian, c’mon) interference, and, presumably, those voting machines Bobby Newport’s campaign tried to install that one time. Thankfully, according to host John Oliver, there’s some potential good news on the way for American citizens currently suffering under that whole “taxation without representation” thing Americans historically get worked up about. But, since prankishly demonstrating how any progress in America must first overcome an arbitrarily stupid gauntlet of bureaucratic jackassery and outright bigotry, that particular progress in voting rights must first get through the state of Florida, and its smirking skull governor, Rick Scott.

Oliver, as is his way, peppered his sobering look at the Sunshine State’s ridiculously complicated and capricious process for restoring the voting rights of its 1.4 million disenfranchised citizens with felony convictions on their records with some prime “Florida man” footage. (Man drives motorcycle with feet, man runs drunkenly through convenience store with alligator, and, in a feel-good example, good samaritan helps man who shot himself in penis.) Under Scott, the state has slowed what in most states is an automatic process to a crawl, with those (including a shocking one-in-five black adults) who’ve completed their sentences subjected to an attenuated and burdensome marathon of years-long waiting periods and a mandated trip to Tallahassee (“which no one should ever have to do under any circumstances,” claimed Oliver), only to then find their civil rights in the hands of Scott and a hand-picked infrequently convened panel. Including one Jimmy Patronis, a GOP CFO who, as Oliver shows, asks applicants about whether they go to church as part of his criteria, a jaw-droppingly unconstitutional religious test for the restoration of one’s rights that’s, nonetheless, completely allowed in Scott’s tribunal since, as Scott explains, “There’s no law we’re following … so we get make our decisions based on our own beliefs.”


So Oliver, reminding Floridians that there’s a ballot measure coming up in November that would wrench this inconsistently applied (and racially biased) process out of Scott’s Slender Man hands by automatically restoring the voting rights of non-violent offenders, donned the best stereotypically Florida garb HBO’s money could afford for a direct appeal. Noting that a place where even the state anthem had to get a do-over for being so appallingly racist, and where making the news for walking your goat in the rain in your underpants while playing a harmonica is a constant danger, Oliver asked Floridians to reach down and find a little common ground with their fellow citizens, who deserve better than to have their ability to vote subjected to a thoroughly unfair process. Speaking to Florida’s storied history as America’s punchline thanks to, for example, a restaurant begrudgingly ending its “Monkey Mondays” promotion for obvious reasons, Oliver urged voters, “Because of all that glorious stupidly, you should innately appreciate the value of second chances.”

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Dennis Perkins

Contributor, The A.V. Club. Danny Peary's Cult Movies books are mostly to blame.