VOTER SUPPRESSION IN FLORIDA IS A DISGRACE TO DEMOCRACY

Voting is the keystone of democracy. No matter what your political leanings may be, everyone agrees that the right to vote must be safeguarded to ensure the integrity of the democratic process. With technological advancements, one can imagine that the process of voting should get easier as time goes on, not more difficult. However, this has not been the case for many in this country and especially in Florida. Following the 2010 election, many state legislatures around the country increased the amount of Republicans in their respective state legislatures, and subsequently the voting process has become more difficult. This was not an accident. Emboldened republican legislatures enacted a variety of measures aimed at suppressing the vote in the 2012 election. Voter suppression efforts included legislation requiring voters to have photo identification at polling locations, making the voter registration process more difficult, purging voters from voter rolls, executive action impeding the restoration of voting rights, and cuts to early voting. All of these measures were aimed at suppressing groups that traditionally vote for Democrats.

The map below details voter suppression efforts that swept the country following the Republican electoral gains in 2010. Unsurprisingly, Rick Scott & Co. led Florida to the front of the voter suppression pack.

Map of all the states enacting voter suppression laws, with Florida leading the pack.

Courtesy of the Brennan Center for Justice at NYU School of Law

The evening of November 6th, 2012 was a long and frustrating experience for many citizens struggling to have their voices heard. In Florida, people stood in long lines, in some cases waiting for over seven hours to ensure that one of their most basic rights as a citizen was upheld, the right to vote. Chris Cate, the Communications Director for Florida’s Secretary of State, acknowledged the determination that it took for many in Miami-Dade County (an area that heavily supports Democrats) to simply cast their vote.

Cate offered them “kudos” for their unnecessary struggle, an honor given to someone regarding a notable achievement.

definition of kudos: Praise and honor received for an achievement.

Voting should not be an achievement, it should be an expected task for a citizen, a civic duty. Cate did not offer these voters struggling to cast their vote a Kudos™ candy bar, which may have physically aided them in their struggle. And Cate certainly would not offer these voters words of encouragement ensuring them that this disastrous circumstance would not be repeated. You can’t blame Cate for not offering this seemingly reasonable assurance that the voting process would get better, because we all know it won’t for quite some time. In a state dominated by Republicans, in the Governor’s office, in the House, in the Senate, and in many Supervisors of Elections offices across the state, it would be an impossible assurance to give.

These long lines were not isolated to Election Day, many had to suffer through these lines during the “Early Voting” period. The creation of Early Voting was an attempt to decrease lengthy lines on Election Day, but when there are only a handfull of Early Voting locations in populous areas, and tying the hands of Supervisors of Elections to choose appropriate venues that can handle the crowds, Early Voting is no longer an escape from the lines on Election Day. In action, Early Voting just created a different line to suffer through. In Florida, Early Voting was cut from 14 days to 8 days by the Florida State Legislature, which contributed to the bottlenecks found at many early voting sites, most noticeable in urban areas around the state, but also present in less populated areas. The Legislature also cut the final Sunday from the Early Voting period, a day which historically represented large voter turnout by African-American voters.

Clearly, there are systemic problems with voting accessibility in Florida.  Ion Sancho, Leon County’s Supervisor of Election, is an outspoken critic of the efforts of the Republican-led Florida legislature to suppress the vote, and detailed the impact of these tactics in his jurisdiction:

At the busiest polling site in Leon County, the home of Florida’s capital, Supervisor of Election Ion Sancho told voters waiting in the the 90-minute line that they would be breaking an early voting record today. He also said that other polling sites, two libraries in the city, were “a mess” as traffic was snarled by voters unable to find parking. The county has had to recruit law enforcement to handle the traffic and “it’s still impossible,” he said. “This is what happens when you make it not accessible by design,” Sancho said. He said that the Republican-led legislature has intentionally limited early voting sites to libraries and supervisors of elections offices in an attempt to “suppress access.” “Supervisors of elections should have the same discretion to determine early voting polling places as they do for regular polling sites,” he said. “There’s no excuse not to.” If he had that option, he said he would put polling places in neighborhood recreation centers and even the downtown Civic Center, where there would be ample parking.” According to some of the legislators, that would let ‘the wrong kind of people vote,’ ” Sancho said.

With a ballot littered with nearly a dozen constitutional amendments, thanks to the Republican-dominated Legislature, and the limits placed upon Supervisors of Elections to choose and expand Early Voting locations, it is no surprise that voters had to suffer through these long lines.

Curious about Gov. Rick Scott’s assessment of how the election was handled in Florida? When asked by WKMG Orlando whether he should have extended early voting hours, Scott simply stated: “Well I’m very comfortable that the right thing happened.” For Rick Scott & Co., the right thing did happen, it suppressed voters that did not want to waste an entire day to perform a civic duty. It suppressed voters in urban areas, and groups that heavily support Democratic candidates.

An image of Florida Secretary of State Ken Detzner on CNNNow, instead of accepting national media interviews Scott has sent his hand-picked Secretary of State Ken Detzner (former lobbyist for the beer industry) to face the fire. Detzner admits that there is room for improvement to CNN, yet refused to apologize to voters that were forced to wait in these lengthy lines despite given several opportunities to do so by CNN anchor Ashley Banfield. Detzner did not detail any specific improvements that would take place in future elections. Surprisingly, Detzner agreed with Leon County’s Supervisor of Election, Ion Sancho, regarding the limitations placed upon Supervisors of Elections by the Republican-dominated Legislature: “The solution is that in current Florida law, there’s a limit on the number of locations that supervisors can use in early voting. We need to take a very serious look at that and open up the number of locations.” Detzner may not have a job much longer after that comment, but we applaud his courage to speak reasonably about this issue. As Detzner offers some details that can alleviate some lines in Early Voting, Gov. Scott thinks that the election went very well, and the Tampa Bay Times describes his only plans to review the voting process are to “solicit suggestions from legislators and county election supervisors on how to improve Florida’s elections machinery.” It is clear that Gov. Scott was either not following this election in the state that he governs, or simply thinks that you should have to wait for hours in line to cast your vote. Either way, this illustrates that his concerns are not in line with the the people of Florida and Americans across the country who hold the right to freely voice your opinion at the ballot box as integral to the democratic process.

Maybe Rick Scott hates democracy, or maybe he just hates you.

GRUMPY RICK SCOTT IS GRUMPYFortunately Rick Scott & Co.’s attempts to suppress the vote was not as successful as he had hoped, Florida voters are resilient and understand the importance of their vote. We may never know how many more people would’ve voted if all of these voter suppression efforts had not taken place, but we can feel comforted by the fact that this country will move forward in a positive direction, and Florida was again at the center of the country’s attention in a close election. Whether there will be new legislation to account for the modern problems of voter suppression, or judicial decisions that protect this unnecessary struggle from happening again, there will be changes. Our voices require a change, and a change we shall receive. Make your voices heard. Contact your local representatives to protect your right to vote.

Let Rick Scott know how you feel about standing in line for hours to cast your vote this election.

Send him a message HERE.

Find your U.S. House Representative HERE.

Find your State Senator HERE.

Find your State Representative HERE.

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