Voter Disenfranchisement in South Florida
After a sordid and chaotic early voting process yesterday, the international media is anticipating that Election Day here in Florida will be a spectacular debacle. Once again, a state that cannot get its own shit together will be instrumental in determining the leader of the free world.
The Germans are already shiza-ing on us: Their top-rated national news program featured one frustrated Miami voter shouting, "This isn't Cuba! This isn't China!" (I imagine they cut out the part where he said, "This isn't Nazi Germany!")
Analysts estimate—as a result of polling that virtually guarantees the Electoral College votes of particular states to one candidate or the other— that over 75 million votes cast today won't matter; while every single ballot in Florida is as precious as a bottle of water in Staten Island.
When both sides believe that the other will steal it by any means necessary, they up the ante and virtually guarantee an unfair fight. It's a self-fulfilling prophecy. In an effort to keep their opponent honest, each side is left with no choice but to cheat. Political steroids, so to speak.
It began early this year, with a Republican-controlled Florida legislature unconstitutionally redrawing Senate districts to favor incumbents. They were forced back to the state capital in Tallahassee for a special session to rewrite the laws so that they were, well, legal.
It wouldn't be any season in Florida—let alone election season—without a litany of scams targeting our most vulnerable residents: the elderly. Phony letters questioning the citizenship of voters; phone calls telling people they can vote by phone or online and there's no need for them to go to polling places.
Absentee ballot fraud was popular as local campaigns hired "ballot brokers," known as boleteros (boleteras if they're women) to gather absentee ballots, strong-arm people to vote for particular candidates and even fill out ballots themselves.
Palm Beach County was home to the notorious "butterfly ballot" in the 2000 presidential election that caused 3,704 voters to mistakenly select Pat Buchanan instead of Al Gore (the entire race was ultimately decided for George W. Bush by 537 votes in Florida). So far this election, a printing error on 60,000 absentee ballots in Palm Beach made it nearly impossible for machines to count some votes and, later, it was discovered that 500 ballots were missing one of the proposed state constitutional amendments.
Plus, it might be all for naught, as one in fifty absentee ballots in Florida are disqualified anyway. And there's no use fighting the disqualification in the courts because the judiciary can't/won't help you.
Now, about those amendments…
The Florida legislature included a whopping 11 proposed amendments to the state constitution on the ballot. Typically prompted by citizen petition initiatives, most of these were initiated by Republican state legislators. They feature a great many "hot button" issues such as public funding for abortions and religious organizations.
Florida Democrats accused Republicans of designing a ballot that would mobilize Republicans while being deliberately onerous for working class voters to understand or take the time to actually vote.
Between the amendments, a variety of local races and county initiatives, some ballots run 10-pages long and require about 30 minutes for each voter to fill them out. This led to wait times at early voting polling places that rivaled gas stations in post-Sandy New York—over 6 hours at some locations.
In elections past, Florida Republican Governors Jeb Bush and Charlie Crist (now an independent who endorsed Barack Obama this year) extended early voting hours in an effort to accommodate voters. This time, Governor Rick Scott worked with Republican legislators to reduce early voting from 14 days (in 2008) to eight this year—Democrats allege that was because they get big turnouts for early voting.
Then Governor Scott (who resigned as CEO of Columbia/HCA with a golden parachute worth hundreds of millions of dollars after the company admitted to perpetuating the largest Medicare fraud in American history and agreed to pay $2 billion to settle the case and once invoked the Fifth Amendment 75 times during a deposition) refused to extend the early voting hours, despite the insane wait times, for seemingly no reasonable justification whatsoever other than to ensure that fewer people were able to vote.
On the last day of early voting on Saturday, a polling place in Winter Park (near Orlando) was shut down and evacuated after "suspicious items" were found on the property. A bomb squad safely detonated the two objects and it required a judge's intervention to extend the hours at this location to accommodate the hundreds of voters who were turned away. As is the tradition in Florida elections, litigation has already ensued.
Meanwhile, the Justice Department monitored early voting in Miami-Dade, presumably to protect against any potential disenfranchisement that did not involve the Black Panthers. After all, it is apparently the position of Attorney General Eric Holder that intimidating voters with club-wielding stormtroopers is the "good" kind of disenfranchisement.
Also in Miami-Dade, elections officials found a clever workaround to state early voting laws that enabled them to open on Sunday to distribute and accept absentee ballots in-person. They opened only one location in what Democrats kvetched was a Republican stronghold and it all went to hell very quickly as Republican Mayor Carlos Gimenez ordered the office shut down and only relented when a near-riot ensued. The situation resulted in headlines like, "Anger and Chaos in Miami-Dade for Sunday Voting" and "Chaos & Confusion For Early Voters In Doral" -- where it would be easy to swap "Miami-Dade" and "Doral" with "Haiti" or "Iraq."
Despite reassurances from local elections officials, Florida is likely about as ready for Election Day as FEMA was for Sandy. Tomorrow, I'll be filling dispatches throughout the day from South Florida—the frontline in Election 2012.
Want more election-day coverage? Check out these articles:
James Pogue on the ugliness in Ohio.
Daniel Denvir on Mitt Romney, the liar.
Bhaskar Sankara on why Ezra Klein creams his pants over Paul Ryan.