Much has been made about the latest attempts at voter suppression by Governor Rick Scott and his administration. While much of the focus of the analysis is how this move helps Republican candidates up and down the ballot, it also helps Scott fend off questions about his ability to be re-nominated.
While the Governor remains largely unpopular with Florida voters, he has also been targeted by some concerned Republicans for a possible primary challenge. But Scott’s popularity among possible Republican primary voters has increased as he has become more and more outrageous in his ideologically motivated agenda.
The Justice Department decision last week got lots of attention, but Florida’s Democrats have done little to mobilize interested groups against the efforts of Scott to disenfranchise voters. While DOJ has issued their ruling, many Supervisors of Elections offices in medium to large sized counties are controlled by Republicans. These officials cannot be trusted to not continue Scott’s plans for a voter purge. In fact, I would fully expect an intensification of these efforts going forward particularly if little local pressure is brought from Democrats and left leaning groups.
The efforts to suppress voters in Florida is nothing new. In fact, Florida is the model state for these conservative efforts nationally.
Starting with the election of Jeb Bush in 1998, Florida became the laboratory for conservative voter suppression efforts. Just as complete Republican domination of state government has allowed think tanks and other conservative advocacy groups to descend upon Florida to push an ideological agenda.
Florida is probably the most important state in Presidential elections in the 21st Century much as Ohio was at the turn of the last century. Combine this with the impotence of the Democratic opposition at the state level since the turn of the century and you have an easy place to experiment with voter suppression.
Unlike Ohio and Wisconsin, states with progressive traditions and well organized labor unions, Florida’s mishmash of progressive groups and a dysfunctional Democratic apparatus are less equipped to fight heinous power grabs by Republican elected officials. Thus every attempt at “electoral reform” since the stolen 2000 Presidential Election has resulted in a greater advantage for the GOP, and a more difficult voting process for minorities, young people, and Democratic oriented seniors who reside in the state most of the year.
With conservative think tanks and pundits constantly waging a campaign of fear and demagoguery related to illegal allies or felons voting, race based scrutiny of voting process is inevitable especially in the nation’s ultimate swing. The fact that Florida has higher than the national average percentages of both Hispanics and Blacks, has allowed the GOP to push voter disenfranchisement in a big way.
Every effort has been made by the Republicans to change the rules in Florida to benefit themselves. After the outright theft of the 2000 Presidential Election, efforts to change voting machines, eliminate runoff elections, limit ballot access to certain candidates and dissuade party switchers from running for office have all benefited the GOP. The irony of this is that those very same items traditionally benefited conservatives and the GOP when they were out of power and seeking to build a statewide majority.
But where the conservatives have really cleaned up in Florida is in the arena of voter suppression and intimidation. By culling voter lists using decidedly political vendors, passing repressive ID laws, making it more difficult to get an absentee ballot, and forcing college students to vote in their home areas, Florida’s GOP is both stifling democracy and making it less and less likely they will be ever be turned out of power.
While Democratic legislators and left leaning advocacy groups have raised the issues of voter suppression, an organized self sustaining statewide effort has not been funded or properly staffed. The Department of Justice issued a ruling this week that should put the kibosh on these efforts, but sadly won’t. As the GOP hegemony in Florida continues, the voter’s laws have become less and less democratic and more repressive. It is important that going forward a permanent effort is made utilizing liberal advocacy and interest groups as well as national donors to emulate Wisconsin’s effort to fight back.
DOJ’s ruling is but one small victory in a larger battle, a war that the Florida GOP continues to wage successfully. We must be vigilant in watching local supervisors offices and voter suppression efforts throughout the state.