Florida: The Biggest Bully on the Electoral Playground

My fair state has done it again. We are officially the biggest bully when it comes to voter intimidation and use of force, by any means necessary. Where else but in Florida do we get to have voting disrupted on the last day of early voting because two suspicious packages were found with wires hanging out of them next to the Winter Park Library?

My brother, who lives in Winter Park, which is located in the heart of the I-4 Corridor, the swingiest part of our swingy state, walked within 10 feet of the suspicious packages, which were detonated by police hours after police dogs determined that the packages contained “bomb-related” materials.

Coincidence or yet another chapter in Florida’s long history of voter disruption and intimidation? Maybe I’m overly sensitive, but the last year has added more fuel to the disenfranchisement fire that has been burning in the Jim Crow South for the last millennia. Take a walk with me through “Disenfranchisement World”, and find out the latest news at this figurative Florida Theme Park.

DISENFRANCHISEMENT WORLD: THE LINES JUST GET LONGER

In 2008, Florida voters waited for as long as six to ten hours in the hot sun and drenching rain to elect Barack Obama for president, the first time in — years that the state elected a democrat. Then Governor Charlie Crist extended early voting because wait times were so long. It was widely understood that early voting was what gave Obama the edge.

So, in 2011, Republican Governor Rick Scott cut early voting from 14 to 8 days. Wait times to vote early are so long this year, Florida Democrats filed an emergency lawsuit seeking to extend voting hours because of “inadequate polling facilities.” To date, the Governor has refused to extend early voting hours, but county supervisors of election have skirted around the law by allowing voters to do “on the spot absentee voting” on Sunday, November 4 and Monday, November 5 at the County Supervisor of Elections headquarters in four of the state’s most populated counties: Miami-Dade, Pinellas, Orange and Hillsborough.

VOTER PURGE: NOT JUST THE EFFECTS OF A ROLLER COASTER RIDE

Well, here in Florida, if they can’t stop people from standing in long lines, they’ll try to intimidate us from even leaving our homes. This spring, Florida’s Secretary of State Ken Detzner announced that his office would be starting a process to purge thousands suspected non-citizens from its list of eligible voters in the spring of 2012.

Noncitizen voting is so rare, even Secretary of State Ken Detzner had a hard time making a case for the voter purge program when he told NPR on September 5 that the state was investigating “several” possible cases of voter fraud.

Nonetheless, the state assembled a list of 180,000 names by comparing the voter rolls with a database of licensed drivers that contained outdated citizenship information. The majority of the voters were people of color, 58% of whom were Latino.

Florida elections supervisors then issued letters to an initial list of about 2,600 residents threatening to remove them from the voter rolls unless they provided proof of citizenship within 30 days. The effort took place within 90 days of an election, which violated the Voting Rights Act. Consequently, a lawsuit was filed by a coalition of groups, including Advancement Project, Florida New Majority, 1199SEIU United Healthcare Workers East, Fair Elections Legal Network, LatinoJustice, PRLDEF, and Project Vote halted the first stage of the voter purge process.

Melande Antoine, a nurse in Miami and one of the plaintiffs in the lawsuit filed against Florida Supervisor of Elections, is a recipient of one of the intimidating letters, despite having lawfully registered several years ago. Melande and her husband were informed that they would be removed from voter rolls as non-citizens within thirty days, and warned that if they voted it could be a felony. Melande was incensed as she viewed this as a discriminatory tactic to silence her voice and her vote. She would not stand for being held to a different standard than that of other citizens.

As a citizen of this great country, it is my right and the right of all citizens to vote, regardless of where you came from,” said Melande. “Needless to say, the letter that we received was intimidating.”

Despite reaching a settlement in September, 2012 which the State has agreed to reverse most of the harmful effects of its flawed purge program, thousands of U.S. citizens were threatened with disenfranchisement, and caused widespread confusion among the voting public. Many of the citizens on the purge list were intimidated from speaking out against it because they thought they could lose their right to vote or even their citizenship.

Thanks to Florida taking the lead on voter suppression, other states are now engaging in illegal purges that are attempting to remove United States citizens who are lawful and eligible voters, from the rolls.

DISENFRANCHISEMENT WORLD: IF LONG LINES DON’T DETER THEM, MAYBE DENYING BALLOTS WILL

Because early voting wait times can last as long as eight hours, many Florida voters look to absentee ballots as a logical option. However, voting by absentee ballot is not as simple as it may seem.

According to a Miami Herald report:

Absentee ballots have gone to wrong addresses, been delayed in the mail and sometimes even been mysteriously canceled. Voters from out-of-state are also having issues with absentee ballots. Nineteen-year-old Olivia Plana, a Pompano Beach resident, requested her ballot September 30th. An elections supervisor told her two more ballots were sent on October 9th and 26th. She still has yet to receive any. Plana says if she doesn’t receive the ballot by today, she will have it FedEx’ed at her expense.

If I have to pay, I’ll pay, Plana told the Miami Herald. “I don’t think I should have to pay to vote.”

If the long wait to receive absentee ballots weren’t bad enough, a new provision in Florida also makes absentee ballot voting tricky. Voting by mail now requires another signature on the back of the ballot mailing envelope and supervisors of election do not have to notify the voter that their ballot envelope was not signed because according to Florida law, the ballot is deemed to have been cast.

All of these changes in a short period of time make Disenfranchisement World a very shifty theme park, filled with twists and turns and new rules that throw voters off their tracks. Will these efforts to suppress our votes be effective? Time will tell.

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