by CHARLES M. BLOW
But, then again, we are talking about Florida, the state of Bush v. Gore infamy and the one that will celebrate the birthday of Jefferson Davis, the only president of the Confederacy, with a statewide holiday on Sunday.
What am I getting at? This: Few states in the union have done more in recent years to restrict and suppress voting — particularly by groups who lean Democratic, such as young people, the poor and minorities — than Florida.
In May 2011, the state’s Republican-led Legislature passed and the Republican governor, Rick Scott, signed a sweeping election law that cut early voting short and imposed onerous burdens on voter registration groups by requiring them to turn in registration applications within 48 hours of the time they are signed or face fines.
The threat of fines has meant that many groups that traditionally registered voters in the state have abandoned the effort, and it appears to be contributing to fewer new registrations. According to a March analysis of registration data by The Times, “in the months since its new law took effect in May, 81,471 fewer Floridians have registered to vote than during the same period before the 2008 presidential election.”
But there is good news. On Thursday, a federal judge overturned the 48-hour deadline as unconstitutional, writing, in part, that “if the goal is to discourage voter-registration drives and thus also to make it harder for new voters to register, the 48-hour deadline may succeed.”
Recently, the state announced that it would begin another round of voter purging to ensure that no ineligible voters were mistakenly on the voter rolls. Seems noble enough. But the problem is that Florida is notoriously bad at purging.
As the New York University School of Law’s Brennan Center for Justice pointed out last week: “In 2000, Florida’s efforts to purge persons with criminal convictions from the rolls led to, by conservative estimates, close to 12,000 eligible voters being removed” from the rolls. As most of us remember, George W. Bush beat Al Gore in the state of Florida that year, after the recounts and the Supreme Court stepped in, by 537 votes.
And as The Miami Herald reported on Thursday:
“So far, Florida has flagged 2,700 potential noncitizen voters and sent the list to county elections supervisors, who have found the data and methodology to be flawed and problematic. The list of potential noncitizen voters — many of whom have turned out to be lawful citizens and voters — disproportionately hits minorities, especially Hispanics.”
More good news: In his keynote address at the inaugural Faith Leaders Summit on Voting Rights, a joint effort by the Congressional Black Caucus and the Conference of National Black Churches, Attorney General Eric Holder Jr. told the group:
“Congressman John Lewis may have described the reason for these concerns best, in a speech on the House floor last summer, when pointing out that the voting rights he worked throughout his life — and nearly gave his life — to ensure are, ‘under attack … [by] a deliberate and systematic attempt to prevent millions of elderly voters, young voters, students, [and] minority and low-income voters from exercising their constitutional right to engage in the democratic process.’ Not only was he referring to the all-too-common deceptive practices we’ve been fighting for years. He was echoing more recent fears and frustrations about some of the state-level voting law changes we’ve seen this legislative season.”
He didn’t mention Florida by name, but, on Thursday, the Department of Justice sent a letter to the Florida secretary of state demanding that they cease the purge.
Florida has more electoral votes than any other swing state, and the battle to win it — or steal it — will be epic because the election is likely to be another nail-biter, both nationally and in the state.
In an NBC-Marist poll of battleground states released last week, President Obama was leading Mitt Romney in the state 48 percent to 44 percent. But as NBC News pointed out, the president’s share was “below the 50 percent threshold usually considered safe haven for an incumbent president,” and Romney has narrowed the races in Florida and other battleground states since earlier in the year.
We can’t predict a winner, but we must insist on a fair fight. Voter suppression can’t be allowed to overshadow democracy in the Sunshine State.
Charles M. Blow is a New York Times Columnist and nationally-known commentator: “I invite you to visit my blog By The Numbers, join me on Facebook and follow me on Twitter, or e-mail me at [email protected]”