By Robert P. Watson, Ph.D. and Yury Konnikov
America’s journey to voting rights for all was long and bloody. When the nation was founded, not everyone was able to vote on account of religious clauses and property requirements that limited full enfranchisement.
By the 1850s provisions requiring citizens to own property and pay taxes in order to vote were eliminated. Not long after the end of the Civil War black men won the right to vote with the 15th Amendment, while women would have to wait another half-century until the 19th Amendment in 1920 assured their right to vote.
Along the way, southern states like Florida used an array of devious mechanisms to deny voting rights to certain groups. This included literacy tests, grandfather clauses, poll taxes, “whites only” primaries, and outright intimidation.
During the 1960s, the nation moved closer to becoming a representative democracy. The 24th Amendment in 1964 outlawed underhanded efforts to limit voting and the 1965 Voting Rights Act assured the right to vote to all citizens. Subsequent years saw the voting age lowered to 18 and efforts to promote voter registration.
It has been two centuries of difficult progress but America is right to be proud of its political maturation; which is why Floridians should be up in arms over the recent actions of Governor Rick Scott and the State Legislature to weaken the integrity of the state’s election system.
After long opposing election reform, Scott and the Republican leadership, fresh off impressive victories in the 2010 election that gave them full control of the state, suddenly found the issue. The problem is that their version of “reform” is anything but.
Their plan, HB 1355 sponsored by Reps. Dennis Baxley and W. Keith Perry, makes it more difficult for Floridians who move prior to the election to vote on Election Day and for independent groups to register voters. These groups could face fines if they do not submit voter forms within an impossibly brief 48 hours. Even though Florida’s early voting system has been praised as a positive new reform, the plan cuts early voting from 14 to 8 days
For all Scott’s free market rhetoric, he has ended up promoting a more monopolistic political system and is even allowing the Secretary of State to impose written opinions and guidelines on local supervisors of elections, including those who are elected. This is another power grab at the expense of local voters.
What the “reforms” do NOT do is address any real problem: It does nothing to improve voting technology; assure better designed ballots; reform ballot access; limit the impact of outside money; and improve voter education and turnout. The net result will be lower voting rates and an increased cost to local election offices. Not surprisingly, every non-partisan election group in the country opposes Florida’s new plan.
It is especially sad that this is happening in Florida because of the state’s recent struggles with elections. It is also ironic that Rick Scott came to power (without a majority of the vote) with supporters calling for reform. He and his backers dumped tea on issues regarding government spending, at times even labeling it “tyranny”. Yet, they are silent over voter suppression.
Robert P. Watson, Ph.D. is Professor and Coordinator of American Studies at Lynn University; Yury Konnikov is President of the Florida Initiative for Electoral Reform