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Reform requires repeal of voter suppression law | Rhonda Swan

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Reform requires repeal of voter suppression law | Rhonda Swan

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Reform requires repeal of voter suppression law
Wednesday, December 12, 2012 — Rhonda Swan

I waited three and a half hours – an hour longer than in 2008 but hours less than many Floridians -- to cast my ballot on the first day of early voting for this year’s general election.

There were several reasons for the long wait but I want Gov. Rick Scott, Secretary of State Ken Detzner and Florida’s lawmakers to admit to just one: The voter suppression law Republicans passed last year.

As Detzner and his appointed audit team undertook a fact-finding mission to “underperforming” counties like Palm Beach and Miami-Dade to determine why Florida was once again the object of ridicule for its handling of this year’s national election, it appears they already have ruled out HB 1355 as a possible factor.  

Any investigation into why voters waited as long as eight hours to cast ballots that doesn’t consider the law that reduced early voting from eight days to 14 cannot and should not be taken seriously.

How serious, though, should we expect an inquiry headed by a Republican appointee of Gov. Scott, who happily signed HB 1355 into law? Scott asked Detzner to look into the long lines and other snafus that left Florida still counting ballots days after the Nov. 6 election had been called for President Obama.

The last time Scott asked a member of his administration to lead a probe into a controversy of national significance was after George Zimmerman shot and killed unarmed Trayvon Martin and claimed immunity under Florida’s Stand Your Ground law. Scott named Lt. Gov. Jennifer Carroll to head a task force charged with looking into possible changes to the law written and backed by the National Rifle Association. Carroll voted in favor of Stand Your Ground as a state legislator and is a lifetime member of the NRA. The task force made no recommendations for significant changes to the law.

No changes are likely for HB 1355, either, if the powers that be won’t even consider its impact on the 2012 elections.

Detzner claimed that the measure would offer “more flexibility to vote, more accountability and faster reporting times on Election Day." We know how that worked out.  Still, Detzner and lawmakers responsible for HB 1355 are blaming everything and everyone except the law.

Senate Ethics and Elections Committee Chairman Jack Latvala, R-St. Petersburg, pointed to perennially flawed elections in Palm Beach County, where incorrectly printed absentee ballots had to be hand copied. “When a county every single election has problems, then you can’t blame a new law,” he said. “You can’t blame the Legislature. You have to look within that county.”

You can’t blame Palm Beach County, though, for long lines in Monroe County, home to the Florida Keys. Monroe County Supervisor of Elections Harry Sawyer, a Republican, asked Gov. Scott to extend early voting through the Sunday before Election Day to accommodate more voters. HB 1355 eliminated that Sunday when, coincidentally, black churches usually sponsor Souls to the Polls events.

Gov. Scott refused to extend early voting despite the request by Sawyer, Democrats and the Florida League of Women Voters.

You don’t have to be a political scientist to figure this out. The majority of early voters are black and most black voters choose Democrats. Limit their opportunity to vote early and they are more likely to stay home. Or so the GOP-dominated Legislature thought when they passed HB 1355 on the pretense that it would curb voter fraud.

Again, the opposite happened.  Incensed by the effort to disenfranchise them, people of color turned out to vote in bigger numbers this year than in the historic election of 2008.  Fewer voting days combined with more people voting equals long lines.

The fact that their plan backfired, though, doesn’t absolve Gov. Scott and legislators like state Sen. Mike Bennett, R-Bradenton, who admitted that he wanted to make voting more difficult.

“The guy who died to give you that right, it was not convenient. Why would we make it any easier?” Bennett said in support of HB 1355 from the Senate floor last year. “I want ‘em to fight for it.”

Voters did fight. Against HB 1355.

Those who died for the right of people who look like me to vote did so to make it easier, not harder. Sen. Bennett, Gov. Scott and every lawmaker who voted in favor of HB 1355 dishonored their sacrifice.

Incoming Senate President Don Gaetz and House Speaker Will Weatherford have committed to election reform. "Floridians,” Gaetz said, “should never again have to stand in lines for six and seven hours to vote."

So true. Reform means repealing HB 1355.

Rhonda Swan is an editorial writer for The Palm Beach Post and author of Dancing to the Rhythm of My Soul: A Sister’s Guide for Transforming Madness into Gladness. She can be reached at [email protected].

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