Republican legislative leaders have lost all sense of shame with their 11th-hour bill to roll back voting rights in Florida. The legislation is so disgraceful it is no wonder a Republican-led House committee debated the bill for all of 6 minutes Friday before silencing public comment and approving the bill along party lines. This fast-moving train needs to be stopped cold.
The legislation moving through the Senate and House is breathtaking for its naked grab for power. The Senate bill, SB 956, and its companion legislation moving through the House would make it harder for voters to have their voices heard and easier for the major political parties to manipulate the outcome of the electoral process. It would ban retirement center and neighborhood association cards from the forms of identification now acceptable to vote. So much for seniors who do not drive and whose military days are far behind them. Voters who moved 29 days before an election would be forced to cast a provisional ballot rather than a regular one. Third-party groups that register voters would have to submit new voter registration applications as soon as 48 hours after the form was completed.
The bill would make it harder for a citizens' referendum to reach the ballot and easier for elected officials to keep one off. It would limit who could act as a poll watcher to political parties and candidates and create a gag zone outside polling places that bars voters from speaking to the press or elections observers. The effect would be to make it harder for voters to report voting irregularities at the polls — at the same time the legislation would encourage the major parties and candidates to use political slush funds to further their agendas. The bill would make it easier for the state to declare a winner in an election where the votes were not fully counted. And the authority to recount any federal, state or multicounty election — which rests now with the governor and two members of the Cabinet, all of whom are elected statewide — would fall to the secretary of state, who is appointed by the governor.
No wonder Republican leaders quietly waited until week seven of the nine-week session to spring this stew of every bad election idea they could imagine. Coming after the large turnout in the November presidential elections, where Democrats voted in surprising numbers, the move looks like nothing more than a scheme by the Republicans who have power in Tallahassee to cling onto it.