This item by J.P. Green was originally published on May 22, 2013.
As one of the most important swing states, Florida’s election law reforms are of more than local interest. So, when Florida’s right-wing governor Rick Scott reverses his earlier opposition to early voting and suddenly signs into law reforms that actually improve voting rights, it may indicate that growing public discontent about voter suppression is making swing voters tilt Democratic. As Aaron Deslatte Tallahassee Bureau Chief of the SunSentinel, explains:
Gov. Rick Scott has signed an elections bill that allows more early voting, in an attempt to reverse some of the restrictions the Republican-controlled Legislature put in place in 2011…is a response to the ridicule Florida received in the days after President Barack Obama’s re-election, when votes were still being counted in a few counties…some urban counties like Miami-Dade, Broward and Orange saw lines that stretched for hours.
Miami-Dade, in particular, has been blasted for not re-aligning its voting precincts with updated population data, resulting in some polling sites that were slammed and others largely empty. Other counties like Palm Beach complained that vendors botched up ballots and software…The bill, HB 7013, lets the State Department fine vendors $25,000 for voting-machine problems that don’t get fixed.
…It also increases the allowable early voting hours, and goes from eight days to 14 days. The Legislature had reduced that early-voting window to one week in 2011, which some evidence has found decreased early-voting turnout last year — particularly among minorities.
And it expands the locations for early voting from just election offices and city halls to include courthouses, civic centers, stadiums, convention centers, fairgrounds and government-owned senior and community centers.
“…With this election reform package, Florida has achieved what many of us thought at one time might be impossible: a huge improvement to our democratic process and a giant step forward for Florida voters,” said Deirdre Macnab, president of the League of Women Voters of Florida.
…But Democrats and some voting-rights groups have been less-than-thrilled with the bill because it gives county election supervisors discretion in the number of hours of early voting they offer — as much as 168 hours — and whether or not to hold early voting on the Sunday before a general election. Some rural counties have said that Sunday is rarely used by voters, while it’s a main get-out-the-vote day among minorities in more urban counties…
The Republicans’ heavy-handed voter suppression may be backfiring with swing voters. Certainly the outrage about FL’s long lines at the polls in 2012 — 8 plus hours in some Miami precincts — aren’t helping the state GOP. Gov. Rick Scott seemed to be campaigning for poster boy for voter suppression before the election. Now he is all about expanding voter access, no doubt to save his political skin. He is running scared.
Looking toward 2014, polls taken in March by Public Policy Polling and Quinnipiac University showing Gov. Scott running 8 and 6 points, respectively, behind likely Democratic candidate for FL Gov. Charlie Crist.
Whether Dems can beat Gov. Scott or not in 2014, leveraging voting reforms in key states is a critical concern for Democratic GOTV. Florida is not only a key swing state with the 3rd largest electoral vote bloc (29 e.v.’s, tied w/ NY) ; it’s also a bellwether, having picked the winner in 12 out of the last 13 presidential elections (12 of the last 14, for those who believe the 2000 election was stolen). The DNC, major party contributors and progressives in general should gladly provide whatever help the Florida Democratic Party needs to take full advantage of the reforms.