It appears that the worst fears of Democrats, that changes to the early voting rules would disproportionately affect black voters, have come true—at least in the state of Florida, where Republicans efforts to restrict voting access prompted the Democratic Party to actually file a lawsuit.
Floridians had to wait on lines for as long as seven hours over the weekend, surely causing some people to give up and go home. The situation was so bad that even Republicans like former New Jersey Gov. Christie Todd Whitman expressed outrage over what she saw.
“I don’t know what went on in Florida, but I do have to say that in this day and age, it’s inexcusable that in this country, we have anything like this going on,” she said on MSNBC. “I’ve led delegations around the world to watch voting and this is the kind of thing you expect in a third-world country, not in the United States of America.”
The New York Times wrote an editorial recounting Republican efforts to confuse, mislead or intimidate voters, hamper early voting, and otherwise reduce turnout among minorities, poor people and other likely Democrats in Ohio, Pennsylvania, South Carolina, Texas, Wisconsin, Iowa and Florida.
It is remarkable to compare the efforts of Republicans in these states to restrict voting with the decision by the state of New Jersey to let residents vote by email or fax because of Superstorm Sandy or in New York to let voters go to any polling place they choose.
In its lawsuit, the Florida Democratic Party contended that the three counties of Miami-Dade, Broward and Palm Beach, which account for a third of the state’s Democrats, have “inadequate polling facilities” and that “long lines and extreme delays unduly and unjustifiably burdened the right to vote.”
Avis Jones-Deweever, director of the Washington-based National Council for Negro Women, told the New Statesman that with the rise in racism that has been exhibited toward African Americans since Obama’s election and the thinly veiled racism undergirding movements like the Tea Party and the “birthers,” it will be an even bigger accomplishment for Obama to be re-elected than was his election in 2008.
Jones-Deweever blasted Republican for trying to win office by stopping African-Americans from voting, rather than promoting policies that would be favored by a majority of the electorate.
She said it was “a blatant attempt to reduce access to vote for non-white people.”
The changes Florida instituted in its election law appear to have reduced the number of Florida voters who participated in early voting this year by an estimated 300,000 votes, according to the Herald Tribune, from about 2.7 million voters in 2008 to 2.4 million this year. Democrats were more affected by the dropoff because they accounted for 46 percent of the early votes compared to the Republicans’ 36 percent, a difference of 248,000 votes. In 2008, early voting accounted for 60 percent of the total votes cast in Florida, but this year the percentage dropped to 54 percent.
When he saw the ridiculously long lines as a result of the Florida legislature’s move to reduce early voting days from 14 to 8, Florida Gov. Rick Scott had the opportunity to extend the early voting hours—as the last two governors of Florida did, including Jeb Bush. But Scott refused, saying the process was “running smoothly.” Obviously the long lines were part of the Republican plan all along to make black people turn around and go home.
But these strategies in these states do not work work if the black people and other Democrats who may have been discouraged over the past week return with a vengeance to vote today on election day. While there were just 300 early voting locations in the entire state, today Floridians will have access to 6,000 Election Day polls.