Monday, November 05, 2012

Déjà vu in Florida – The voting mess has already begun

This was not only predictable, but predicted. Some highlights from a Huffington Post report:
Once again, Florida and its problems at the polls are at the center of an election.

Early voting is supposed to make it easier for people to carry out their constitutional right. Tuesdays are notoriously inconvenient to take off work, so many states have given voters the option of turning out on weekends or other weekdays in the run-up to Election Day.

But in Florida this year, it has been a nightmare for voters, who have faced record wait times, long lines in the sun and a Republican governor, Rick Scott, who has refused to budge and extend early voting hours. [....]

In Miami-Dade on Saturday, people who had gotten in line by 7:00 p.m. were allowed to vote; the last person wasn't checked in until 1 a.m., meaning it took some individuals six hours to cast a ballot.

"We're looking at an election meltdown that is eerily similar to 2000, minus the hanging chads," said Dan Smith, a political science professor at the University of Florida.

Miami-Dade attempted to deal with the problem on Sunday by allowing voters to cast absentee ballots in person between 1:00 and 5:00 p.m. However, after just two hours, the Miami-Dade elections department shut down the location after too many people showed up. People outside the locked doors were reportedly screaming, "We want to vote!"

"They didn't have the infrastructure,"filmmaker Lucas Leyva, who was among those turned away, told The Huffington Post's Janie Campbell. "We read the press release and everything that went out this morning, promising we'd be able to get absentee ballots and vote. We got here and there was a line of hundreds of people all being told the same thing, that that wasn't true anymore. You could drop off [a ballot], but they could not issue one."

And if getting turned away from the polls weren't enough of an indignity, some of those 180 people ended up getting their cars towed from the parking lot across the street, according to a Miami Herald reporter.
It's important to recognize that this situation is neither accidental nor the result of simple incompetence, though incompetence and ordinary dysfunction no doubt play some role. It's the consequence of measures taken deliberately by Florida Republicans to suppress voter turnout in this election—in ways designed to disproportionately impede Democratic voters, even if they may also affect some Republican voters in the process.
A major reason there are so many problems at the polls is that last year, Florida's GOP-controlled legislature shortened the number of early voting days from 14 to eight, meaning all early voters are trying to cast their ballots in a shorter window. Previously, Floridians were allowed to vote on the Sunday before Election Day -- a day that typically had high traffic.
For anyone who might feel uncertain about the shamelessly partisan motivation for that last measure, Mark Kleiman asks the obvious question: "Can anyone offer a single serious argument why early voting shouldn’t be available the Sunday before election day? No, I didn’t think so. " Now let's get back to the HuffPo report:
But losing that final Sunday isn't the only problem. Smith said that he and Dartmouth professor Michael Herron found that in 2008, voters 65 or older were much more likely to cast ballots in the first five days of early voting than members of other age groups, alleviating some of the pressure at the polls in the remaining days. Those extra days, however, are gone this year, leading to a compression that the system has been unable to handle.

Scott has refused to extend early voting hours, essentially arguing that there is no problem, despite calls from Democrats, independent groups and even a Republican elections supervisor. He is arguing that he can extend early voting hours only when there is a true emergency -- like a natural disaster -- that warrants it. [....]

As Florida Democrats have pointed out, the state's previous two Republican governors -- Jeb Bush and Crist -- both extended the hours. A spokesman for Bush didn't return a request for comment.
It remains to be seen how things work out on Tuesday.

As we all know, the multi-pronged Republican efforts to discourage, intimidate, and disenfranchise Democratic-leaning voters (a campaign that Timothy Noah correctly described as a political obscenity) have been very wide-ranging, not something restricted to Florida. And we still haven't gotten around to actually counting the votes (or trying to).  If the voting results on November 6 turn out to be close or ambiguous in a few crucial states like Florida, Ohio, and/or a few others, we can expect to see armies of lawyers unleashed in prolonged litigation ... along with the danger that the presidential election will, once again, be decided by a blatantly partisan Supreme Court. Let's hope that doesn't happen.

—Jeff Weintraub