One of the more disturbing and under-reported stories these days is the Republican campaign to obstruct voting by pro-Democratic groups. It’s happening in many states, and it’s a more serious threat than usual, as a result of GOP gains in November, which give them additional leverage in state legislatures.
The Miami Herald is doing a pretty good job of covering this campaign in Florida, and I would urge progressives to monitor the GOP’s voter suppression efforts at the state level more closely. Here, for example, is an excerpt from a report by the Herald’s Steve Bousquet on Democratic Senator Bill Nelson’s critique of Florida’s recent efforts at election law “reform”:
Democratic U.S. Sen. Bill Nelson blasted state Republican lawmakers Monday for an election law overhaul that he says will block college students and military personnel from having their votes counted next year when he and President Barack Obama both seek re-election.
Then Nelson waded into a controversy of his own when he suggested the U.S. special forces that killed al-Qaida leader Osama bin Laden could be blocked from voting if the Legislature passes the bill.
“Should we deny those very military that carried out this very successful decapitating of the al-Qaida snake?” Nelson asked at a Capitol news conference. “Should we deny them because they have signed their voter registration card in a different way than they signed their absentee ballot overseas?”
Senator Nelson’s point is well-put and well-timed. Naturally, Florida Republicans went ballistic and accused Nelson of, gasp, political opportunism. Bousquet explains what the ‘reform’ proposals would do:
The target of Nelson’s wrath are bills awaiting floor votes in the last few days of the session. Under the proposed changes, voters could not update addresses at the polls unless they moved within their county, and third-party groups that don’t turn in voter registration forms within 48 hours would face $50-a-day fines.
The Herald’s Joy-Ann Reid elaborates in her Sunday article, “In Florida, GOP Squeezes Obama-friendly Voters“:
In Florida, the GOP-dominated legislature will soon pass laws squeezing the voting methods favored by minorities, college students and the working class.
Between them, the House and Senate bills would cut early voting from two weeks to one; force people who need to update their name or address on Election Day (say, due to marriage or divorce or a move by a military family) to vote on provisional ballots; and impose onerous restrictions on groups registering people to vote.
In the most extreme case, Republicans hope to pack the Supreme Court to undermine the anti-gerrymandering Fair Districts Amendments voted through by a public who actually thought the authoritarians in Tallahassee would let a little thing like the Constitution come between them and their stranglehold on power.
And in an especially creative flourish, Rick Scott and his Cabinet have revived the spirit of Jim Crow by re-imposing restrictions on voting rights restoration that had been brought into the 21st Century by former Gov. Charlie Crist.
As for the motivation behind the FL GOP reforms, Reid explains:
Florida’s two-week early voting period was among the reforms meant to prevent embarrassments like the 2000 election. It was a hard-won victory for working people who sometimes can’t get to the polls if they work odd hours, or run out of time to resolve a problem at the polls.
Arguably, it also contributed to Obama’s Florida win in 2008, as black churches and college students took full advantage of the extra time (and the history-making opportunity)…Karen Andre, who ran the Liberty City/Little Haiti office for the Obama campaign, called the impact of early voting in those neighborhoods “amazing…It was raining constantly during early voting and people would not leave the polls,” she said.
Held harmless by the “reformers” will be absentee voting, which happens to be the method used most effectively by Republicans.
Early voting and same day registration “have been critical in getting sizable numbers of black, Hispanic and young voters to the polls, particularly in presidential elections,” according to the Reid Report’s “Florida Republicans’ War on Voting Continues.”
Lawsuits to stop the Florida GOP’s disenfranchisement campaign are expected, but prospects for a favorable decision are unclear at best. In any case, Democrats in Florida and other states facing similar shenanigans now have an extra incentive to break records in registering new voters and turning them out in ’12.