As voter ID laws falter, Florida shines by comparison, for now
As restrictive voter ID laws come under legal attack by courts in Texas and North Carolina, Florida finds itself in the unaccustomed position of not being vilified for imposing new barriers to democracy on the cusp of a presidential election. At least that was the consensus Monday at a conference on voting at the University of Florida, sponsored by the Bob Graham Center for Public Service.
Officials from the ACLU, NAACP, Project Vote and the Brennan Center for Justice at NYU sketched the litigation landscape in 2016, and while hailing a federal court's rejection of North Carolina's voter ID law as "a huge win," they focused on what they said are restrictive laws in Texas, Kansas, Louisiana, Georgia, Nevada, Pennsylvania and elsewhere.
The word "Florida" was scarcely mentioned. It's August, and the shrieks of "voter suppression" (by Democrats) and "rampant voter fraud" (by Republicans) that dominated the past two election cycles in Florida have scarcely been heard this year. Part of the reason, experts said, is that Florida has already fought pitched legal battles over barriers to registering voters, limits on early voting, purging suspected non-citizens from the rolls and other issues.
"Florida learned its lesson," said UF political scientist Daniel Smith, recalling the "fiasco" of a 2011 voting law, House Bill 1355, that came under intense legal attack and prompted legislative changes. Said Smith: "There are a lot of states that are making Florida look pretty good right now."
Mandatory ID at the polls? Floridians are over it, and accept having to show proof of identity. Pasco Supervisor of Elections Brian Corley noted that people take for granted they must flash an ID when they cash a check or get a prescription. "The integrity of the election has to come first," Corley said.
But Florida elections officials have learned to take nothing for granted. Polk County Supervisor of Elections Lori Edwards said her fears include another razor-close presidential election, ballot errors by voters and the possibility of a hurricane close to the Aug. 30 statewide primary.