The manipulation of voting and voting rights is nothing new to either party. The big difference tends to be that contemporary Democrats want to make voting as easy and accessible as possible while contemporary Republicans want the opposite, at least for certain voters. Republicans definitely want their people to have voting easy and accessible; it’s those folks who tend to vote for Democrats who need to be blocked from exercising their voting rights.
This year, with the American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC) working in tandem with Tea Party-driven GOP majorities in a number of states including Florida, the same slate of voting restrictions have become the boilerplate agenda in state after state.
In Florida, it was Marion County’s State Representative Dennis Baxley (R-HD 24), an ALEC fan who sponsored HB 1355 which was co-introduced by another Marion County State Rep, Keith Perry (R-HD 22). It started out as a 14 page bill and then transformed into a 133 page, ultimately a 158 page re-write of election law in Florida. It was a scorched earth bill, affecting critical aspects of voter registration, voter verification, and voting schedule as well as citizen initiatives (ballot amendments) and party-switching by candidates.
Why was this necessary? Voter fraud.
What voter fraud, you ask? Exactly. Not only in voting-challenged, scandal ridden Florida, but the mantra of “voter fraud” resonated across the country … with one itsy-bitsy problem. There was no voter fraud. “Voter fraud” was pure political fraud.
Baxley’s interview with Rev. Al Sharpton of MSNBC was embarrassing, even for Floridians – click here for the awful 12 minute video. (Another video of Baxley reviewing the “strike all” – the bill’s sudden transformation from 14 to 158 pages – shows him presenting the same arguments in the Tallahassee GOP echo chamber – click here.)
One ALEC-GOP ambition was clear: keep Democratic constituencies from voting:
- African Americans who would early vote after church on the last Sunday before Election Day – cut off as days are reduced and calendar shortened … by one Sunday.
- College students, the foreclosed and tenants who moved across county lines – no same day address changes, no matter if the technology has allowed it flawlessly for years.
- Voter registration groups slammed with a 48 hour turnaround on forms and $1,000 per form fines, causing the Florida League of Women Voters to shut down its volunteer-based mission of registering voters, and causing 2 high school teachers to get referred to the Secretary of State for penalties.
The law has already begun having an effect as Prof. Dan Smith of University of Florida recently testified, depressing voter registrations:
In December 2007, the Division of Elections processed 77,299 voter registration applications, with a 90.8 percent validity rate. Four years later, in December, 2011, it processed 45,026 voter registration applications, but determined that only 89.6 percent were valid.
The Obama presidential campaign will soon begin pouring money into Florida to conduct another aggressive voter registration effort, no matter the law’s explicit attempt to deter them.
Yet the timing of these radical new provisions, in the midst of a presidential election year with redistricting reshaping districts across the state, almost guarantees mass confusion, at best aiding Republicans, and at worst making a shambles of voting in 2012, and possibly undermining voting permanently. The needless confusion and orchestrated disarray will only grow the ranks of the cynical who doubt that their vote matters, who feel the process is rigged, and who see elected officials as unresponsive, indifferent, and corrupt. If they had been dedicated voters, they may join the ever-growing ranks of those disaffected and non-participating.
More and more, it seems that the GOP is willing to abandon democracy, working quite aggressively to undermine the function and practice of government, apparently believing that it will be to their advantage. The GOP war on liberals, progressives, and Democrats – from the president to the public citizen – has become a war on the people, the Constitution, and democracy.
If the 2012 election hopes to achieve anything, its greatest challenge seems to be the ending of the dysfunctional, pathological Republican Party that is willing to destroy the nation to satisfy ideology, corporations, and selfish power. May it be replaced by a genuine opposition party of intelligent and conscientious conservatives who want to share the work of governing so that all people may participate, have the opportunity to prosper, and live without fear. If we don’t have such a reformation among Republicans, it won’t matter who gets elected. We’re toast.