Having solved all other problems, the Florida Legislature now turns to the most dangerous threat of all …
No kidding. The 2011 Legislature is considering, and its committees have approved so far, bills that would:
• Cut Florida's early-voting period (nearly one out of five ballots were cast early in 2010) from two weeks to one.
• Bar anyone who has moved or changed a name, such as newly married women, from updating their information at the polls on Election Day and receiving a regular ballot. They would have to cast "provisional" ballots instead.
• Crack down on, and expand penalties for, groups that try to register new voters — which used to be considered an all-American activity.
• Make it even harder for citizens to change the Florida Constitution by setting an earlier expiration date for petition signatures.
The line in Tallahassee is that these changes simply "clean up" voting in Florida, make it more "efficient," and prevent "fraud."
Yet as a whole, Senate Bill 2086 and House Bill 1355 are astonishing. They reverse a decades-long trend of making it easier to register and vote in America.
My Democratic friends claim it is a Republican plot. I do think that's part of it.
After all, even though Florida has more registered Democrats, the Legislature itself is two-thirds Republican.
And who is most likely to be barred from casting a regular ballot? Who moves more? College students, young people. Who is most likely to change a name? Women. The stereotype, with justification, is that they lean Democratic.
They will be the ones told on Election Day, sorry, you can't cast a regular vote — you'll have to fill out extra forms; you'll have to cast a "provisional" ballot; you'll have to wait to find out if your vote even counted.
And yet, I think this goes deeper than Republican-Democrat. The Legislature has grown increasingly hostile to all expressions of citizen democracy, regardless of party label. (Don't hold your breath waiting for a vote on the bill filed this year to create a recall process.)
Good grief. We can't even figure out in Florida if we want to keep track of pill mills dishing out oxycodone. But as for the subversive practice of registering voters — whoa, Nellie! Every group would have to register and file reports; every person doing such a thing would have to fill out forms and be in the state's files. They would have exactly 48 hours to turn in each form after a voter signs it — or else face financial penalties on a per-signature basis.
Most of all, the Legislature dislikes citizen petitions to amend the Constitution, and has passed several laws to make it more difficult.
Now this is the most elegant attack of all: cutting the valid life of petition signatures from four years to two years. It can take years to build a citizen campaign to change the Constitution. The Legislature is about to declare that citizens must pull off the whole shebang in a single, two-year election cycle.
I have been impressed, overall, with the extent of this Legislature's assault on the lives, well-being and pocketbooks of Floridians to the benefit of private interests, and have wondered how long it will take for Floridians to realize it (if ever). But this Legislature is even more clever than I realized — in case the voters ever do wake up, it will be that much harder for them to do anything about it.