Though the sting of our national embarrassment in 2012 has yet to fade, Florida officials are back with yet another blatant attempt to stack the deck in upcoming elections. Following just a little bit of obligatory, if insincere contrition after embarrassing us in the last Presidential election, Rick Scott and company have again handed Florida voters restrictive changes under laughable pretenses. From suppressing the vote to increasing the influence of big money special interests, is it even worth pretending this is still a true democratic republic?
For the 2012 election, Florida inexplicably reduced the number of early voting days, despite early voting's previous success in both increasing turnout and reducing waits on Election Day. The state also directed SOEs to perform questionable scrubs of their voter rolls, which I wrote about at length in a previous column. The commonality in both measures were that, statistically speaking, they would both be likely to disproportionately impact demographics (immigrants, minorities, college students and the poor) which typically do not vote for the majority party.
Were this an isolated incident, one might suppose coincidence. However, the state's epic bungling of the 2000 Presidential Election was also brought about by a purge process that was known to be deeply flawed and again seemed to target a specific party's voters. In both 2004 and 2008, the state also engaged in similarly-flawed purges, while failing to correct many of the mistakes made previously. I also covered those debacles at length in another previous column.
Last week, Secretary of State Ken Detzner sent out a directive to Florida's 67 SOEs to no longer accept absentee ballots at satellite locations. This may seem like a small issue until you look at how many voters vote absentee and then how many of those voters utilize the drop-off locations, particularly in Hillsborough and Pinellas County where a special election will be contested early next year to replace Republican Congressman CW Bill Young. According to the Tampa Bay Times, more than 105,000 Pinellas County absentee voters returned ballots to drop-off locations in 2012 – 42 percent of the total absentee vote.
Numbers are comparable in Hillsborough County, which had 15 drop-off sites in 2012. Now, if you were unfamiliar with Florida's long history of Election Day shenanigans, you might suspect that the directive has been put in place to combat fraud, since it obviously will not encourage higher voter turnout – the two primary concerns of election officials. Of course if you were familiar with our state's disgraceful election history, you would know that even when it acts on the pretense of combating fraud, no actual fraud is typically found.
In fact, when legislators recently had a chance to impact one area where actual fraud had been a problem – registering absentee voters – they sat on their hands. You can probably guess that those incidents, in which shadowy political figures akin to the ward healers of the early 20th century would register and deliver non-voters to buy and turn in their ballots, tended to benefit the majority party.
This time, Detzner simply said that he was responding to questions from two SOEs and seeking uniformity among counties. The SOEs quickly complained that they were being misinterpreted or taken out of context, but the directive stuck nonetheless. Add in the fact that Detzner was appointed by Governor Scott and that Scott's 2010 opponent Alex Sink is a strong candidate to deliver Young's seat to the minority party, and it begins to smell like just another home-cooked farce.
Now, let me be clear. Enacting policies that favor their party is not a uniquely Republican tactic. For years, Democrats controlled Tallahassee and gerrymandered as deftly as anyone. But the out and out disregard for the supposedly sacred right to vote that has been displayed by the Republican Party of Florida over the last decade and a half is utterly unprecedented and a warning that single-party rule is a dangerous proposition no matter who is in charge.
In the solidly-blue state of New Jersey, a Republican governor was just re-elected by a wide margin because even a sizable chunk of Democrats eventually became disenchanted with purely partisan politics that put special interests and the maintaining of power above all else.
Rick Scott has had some credible successes during his first term, building a record that he can run on, allowing all voters to decide whether he has earned another four years. But if enough Floridians begin to think that he and his party believe that only they know best, and that the reins of power are too important to be left to the democratic process, they too might decide that a Governor from the other party isn't such a bad idea.
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