Editorial: Florida early voting procedures suppress the minority vote
Published: Wednesday, November 28, 2012
Updated: Wednesday, November 28, 2012 20:11
For the many Obama supporters here on campus and across the nation, there was a sense of relief and satisfaction immediately following the news of the president’s re-election earlier this month. Understandably, that result alone was enough cause for jubilation. However, for the sake of democracy and for the electoral process, the finer details of the 2012 election deserve inspection because they reveal insecurities and injustices that have largely escaped scrutiny these past three weeks.
The former Chairman of the Florida Republican Party, Jim Greer, commented this week that his state’s reduction of early-voting hours in the weeks preceding the Nov. 6 election was a strategic attempt on the part of Republicans and Governor Rick Scott specifically to attempt to swing Florida’s electoral votes in favor of Mitt Romney. In many states with early voting – including Florida – traditionally Democratic constituencies who would otherwise be unlikely or unable to vote on a Tuesday in early November cast the vast majority of pre-Election Day ballots. In Florida, those voters are heavily non-white. From a purely statistical point of view, suppression of just a portion of the early vote would be enough to change the outcome of the statewide election, given the closeness of the election predicted by opinion polling. Earlier still in the year, moreover, draconian voter registration laws threatened punitive state action and huge fines in response to minor clerical oversights, threatening to bankrupt community organizers wishing to enroll voters. Republicans in Florida have indicated that if black voters cannot be convinced during the campaign to support GOP candidates, they should be denied the vote altogether.
What is remarkable about this story is that we did not need the confessions of Jim Greer or Charlie Crist, who insisted before the election that voter suppression was in the works in Florida, to realize that our nation’s troubled history of suppressing the civic participation of minorities, especially blacks, has not ended with the election of Barack Obama. Gone are the days of literacy tests and poll taxes, to be sure, but those same racist and anti-democratic principles have merely taken on kinder and gentler forms. Cutbacks on early voting and strict photo-ID requirements are now used as measures to fight the imaginary scourge of voter fraud. Strip away the deceptive rhetoric and behold Jim Crow lurking behind the façade.
Voter suppression makes for good electoral politics for Republicans where they choose to suppress the vote. But this is true only because it so often goes unchallenged by Democrats and Republicans alike. Supporters of Mitt Romney in this month’s election, to be sure, have a responsibility to disavow this strategy wherever Republicans employ it, but the responsibility for supporters of Obama is far greater: to challenge these racist laws wherever they are enacted and enforced, even in spite of the distraction a political victory like the one witnessed on Nov. 6 might provide.