FIXING ELECTIONS Voting is the foundation of our representative democracy. People maintain the power in our political system when they vote. All the campaign dollars in the world can’t put a politician into office, only the ballot box can. Voters frighten those in power, because voters can’t be controlled.
The Florida election process has run well for years. Dangling chads no longer call into question the validity of an election victory. Early voting has been a big boon, with one out of five voters taking advantage of the two-week period before the election day to cast a ballot, surpassing the popularity of the absentee ballot.
With no complaints from the voters and not even a hint of election fraud or hanky panky in the state, our Republican lawmakers still felt compelled to change our election laws. For the past three decades, we have worked hard to make it easier for people to register and cast their votes–all that was thrown out by the 2011 Florida Legislature.
The changes put forth in House Bill 1355, which is now awaiting the signature of Gov. Rick Scott, aren’t to help more people vote. No, the changes establish obstacles to registering and voting for college students, minority and the poor–groups that tend to vote for Democrats.
Rather than reaching out to those voting groups, the Republicans, who hold super majorities in both the Florida Senate and House, simply changed the rules to hamper their competition. The voters passed in 2010 constitutional amendments
that took away the lawmakers’ ability to gerrymander districts, so they took the next best steps in making sure they get re-elected–making it harder for people to register to vote and turning their ballots into provisional ones.
Under HB 1355, voter registration workers must sign sworn affidavits before participating in drives. The workers must return registration forms within two days or be subject to huge fines. This effectively ends voter registration drives at schools and churches. The League of Women Voters, a non-partisan organization, has announced it will no longer conduct voter registration drives because of the potential liability.
The poor, minorities and college students are our most mobile voters. In the past, they could provide proof of change of address at their new polling place and be allowed to vote. HB 1355 makes their votes provisional, meaning they will only be counted in a close election. The bill also cuts the early voting period from two weeks to one. Popular voting initiatives like “Souls to the Polls” will have to rework their efforts.
I have little hope that Gov. Rick Scott will show any concern for the voters’ rights. He will probably praise the bill for how it protects the election process–the patented Karl Rove move of calling something what it’s not.
Our only salvation may be these changes must be approved by the federal government under the Voting Rights Act. Maybe the feds can save us from our lawmakers before they destroy our democracy.