2011? Some of us feel as though we're time traveling back to the Stone Ages.
Despite 21st century safeguards and technology, and a system that after a decade of progress most would call accessible, efficient and reliable, our state legislators are taking us back to a time when the early Greeks voted on pieces of broken pottery. We thought the Legislature was busy fixing our economy, finding good-paying jobs and closing the deficit. But that is apparently not our biggest challenge. What is? Too many Floridians are voting.
After a record turnout in Florida's 2010 election, and a very smooth voting process, it appears the Legislature is ready to pass some radical new regulations surrounding Florida voting. The reason? Voter fraud, they say.
Really? It appears the House sponsor of this antivoter bill, HB 1355, Rep. Dennis Baxley, R-Ocala, is unaware that since January 2006, the state has paid for and used a statewide database of registered voters. Available by phone or computer to every polling location in the state, it has successfully enabled, along with other checks and balances, the prevention of duplicate voting and registrations.
Voter fraud? Extremely rare. Mickey Mouse, to our knowledge, has actually never voted in Florida even though he is mentioned frequently by advocates like Baxley and his cohorts in the Senate, who are now proposing a whole list of regulations for voters and voter registration groups.
Think it won't affect you? Consider this:
• Were you an early voter? One-third of Florida voters were early voters, and fully 50 percent of our voters used early voting and absentee ballots to vote before Election Day in the last presidential election. Lines were so long during early voting that then-Gov. Charlie Crist had to order an emergency extension of hours. But Baxley has proposed cutting early voting days by more than half, from 15 to seven. Imagine Election Day lines in 2012 with almost 2 million more citizens and half as many days to early vote.
• Have you ever moved? Between the House and Senate (SB 2086) proposals, it will be very difficult for Floridians needing to change their name or address to cast a regular ballot, even though residents have been able to do that for 40 years. Florida's state computer database ensures it can be done quickly and easily in seconds.
No matter. Baxley thinks these folks could be dangerous and wants them to cast a provisional ballot — which may get counted the next day, after the results are in. Apologies to our citizens who move. It will also particularly hurt college kids, newly married or divorced women and other mobile people who have been able to change their name or address when they came to the polls for — did I mention? — the past 40 years.
• Have you ever seen anyone need help or legal advice at the polling place? Baxley's bill would prohibit any communication or legal advice from being offered to voters waiting in line to vote. Currently those offering such advice to voters must stay at least 100 feet from the entrance to the polls. They would be out of luck.
• Do you, your child, or a relative or friend register voters? My son did at his high school for the past two years. I doubt he'd do it under Baxley's law. I'd tell him not to. And our thousands of League of Woman Voters members, Boy Scouts looking for merit badges, and other organizations will probably stop doing this work as well. Baxley's law will require oaths, financial fines (after 48 hours) up to $1,000 and possible criminal penalties.
"We can't risk voter fraud," Baxley says, despite the fact that our statewide computerized database makes duplicate and fraudulent registrations almost unheard of. These regulations will likely end the League of Women Voters' 91 years of registering voters in schools, farmers markets and community events. Why would volunteers put their good name and leave themselves open to criminal penalties?
Bill Cowles, supervisor of elections in Orange County, says, "The average voter is probably not paying attention to these new regulations, but come Election Day it will frustrate them at the polls."
These election bills represent an assault on voters and voter registration groups. It is one of the most antivoter, anti-American election bills we've seen. If you're planning on voting next year, you should plan ahead — way ahead. On the other hand, there probably won't be too many new voters as voter registration groups like ours drop out. Or you could call your state senator and tell them to reject this bad bill.
Deirdre Macnab is state president of the League of Women Voters of Florida, a 91-year-old nonpartisan organization dedicated to encouraging citizens' active and informed participation in government.