RIVERVIEW — State Supreme Court Justice Peggy Quince came before the Riverview Chamber of Commerce on Tuesday with a fundamental request of the audience.
Quince used the opportunity at the chamber's monthly luncheon to promote her merit retention, one of the many decisions voters will face in November.
She offered a broader message, though, about not only going to the polls to cast a vote in the presidential race but to be engaged and informed about all the races and all the constitutional amendments. The top of the ballot draws the attention, but the decisions down-ballot are just as important.
"Yes, I have a personal interest in it. I'm down-ballot," Quince said as the crowd laughed, "so it's important to me, but it's important to us as citizens of these United States.
"If we continue to believe in democracy, we need to make sure we do all that we can to continue this democracy. We try to import this to people in other countries all the time. You read about it, you hear about it all the time, but do we really appreciate what we have? Do we really appreciate all that has been given to us?"
Voting remains one of the most sacred and valued rights we have as citizens. Soldiers fought for it, suffrage supporters argued for it, and civil rights workers marched for it.
It's not to be toyed with for personal gain or treated like a pawn in a larger political chess match.
I fear that Gov. Rick Scott and the GOP-controlled state Legislature, with a sweeping set of voter changes, may be doing just that under the guise of preventing voter fraud.
Reducing the days for early voting from 14 to eight may be the most inexplicable, as former Gov. Bob Graham wrote in an op-ed piece this week. The supervisor of elections in Monroe County, one of five counties where voting remains under federal scrutiny, rightfully refused to agree to the reduction.
Scott responded by threatening to remove him from office. The Florida presidential vote may find itself facing the same kind of legal scrutiny it received in 2000, and a controversy where none needed to exist.
Given the sacrifices made by so many to protect this inalienable right, we should be working to create greater voting access while maintaining the integrity of the process. Early voting days, unlike some of the other changes, really has nothing to do with preventing voter fraud. It could, however, have something to do with reducing the influence of African-American voters, which made up 22 percent of early voters in 2008 even though they constitute only 13 percent of registered voters.
Still, if we hold voting so sacred, if it means so much to us, any attempt to curb it should make every citizen more determined to exercise that right. While I object to the changes, from a personal perspective, it won't affect my ability to vote.
If these are obstacles to overcome, anyone who believes every vote counts should overcome them. The most daunting challenges to voting today pale in comparison to the blood, sweat and tears shed by so many in the past. Low voter turnout and apathy do nothing but sadden me.
While arguing that his party needs to reach out to young people, blacks and Hispanics, Speaker of the House John Boehner said the economic downturn may depress voter turnout among those groups.
"They may not show up and vote for our candidate, but I would suggest to you they won't show up and vote for the president either," Boehner said.
Regardless of your party affiliation, people need to prove Boehner wrong. How can anyone expect our leaders to care about them if they don't care enough to vote?
That's all I'm saying.