Sunday, December 17, 2017
Politics

A little sanity in voting

How fitting, in this week of politically patriotic partying, to see a little sanity creeping back into how we vote.

Make that, in who gets to vote.

And how ridiculous does that sound? Most of us learned the very-American concept that the vote of each citizen counts equally, black or white, rich or poor, Republican, Democrat or otherwise, at about the same time we were mastering our multiplication tables.

Plus, there was that also-very-American idea of making sure voting was accessible to everyone as long as they were qualified to cast a ballot — whether they drove to the polls in a Rolls or came on foot.

But the world's gone a little crazy on this subject lately, and in our state in particular.

In the name of what supporters insist is an effort to stamp out (by-the-way virtually nonexistent) voter fraud came sweeping changes to Florida's voting laws under a Republican-controlled Legislature and Republican governor.

Groups that hold voter-registration drives suddenly had to turn in the forms within 48 hours instead of the old deadline of 10 days or face crushing fines of up to $1,000.

A thousand dollars!

These were requirements so restrictive that the League of Women Voters stopped its registration efforts.

And so much for that American concept of getting out the vote.

In another bold move, the state also reduced the number of days you can vote early from a maximum of 14 to eight.

And yes, people most affected by these changes are the poor, minorities, women, students — now that you mention it, those who lean toward voting Democrat.

And here comes that potentially nation-changing presidential election.

By now, if that every-vote-counts thing you learned seems a fading memory, you're probably ready for the sanity part.

This week, a federal judge permanently booted Florida's 48-hour voter registration deadline. The judge said if the goal was to discourage voter drives and make it harder for new voters to get registered, that deadline might just do it.

And the world tilts back a little.

In a recent ruling on those early-voting days, in the case of five Florida counties, a court panel said the state failed to show that the changes wouldn't hurt minority voters, and that a shorter voting period would be like closing polling places in black neighborhoods.

There's an un-American concept for you.

The matter's not settled yet, with more legal wrangling to be had, but it's encouraging just the same.

There's more: On Thursday, a federal court struck down a controversial new Texas voter ID law, noting the cost of a voter ID card would most hurt poorer black and Hispanic citizens.

And, remind me — whom do they tend to vote for?

Finally, a small but progressive move in Hillsborough County, where people who vote by mail no longer have to pay postage to do so — often an odd amount that varies from county to county. It's been $1.44 in the past. In Pinellas, vote-by-mailers currently pay 65 cents.

Big money? No. But it's potentially confusing and may require the extra step of a trip to the post office. So it's a move to make voting a little easier, for everyone.

How very American.

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