There is a “War on Voting” in this country and, wherever you live, you need to be paying close attention. The Constitution protects voters from discrimination, but that protection is being challenged in states across the nation, and making it harder for people to vote.
In dozens of state legislatures, the new and expanded Republican majorities are pushing and even enacting policies that are proven to lead to the disfranchisement of eligible voters. When asked why, the proponents of these bills always claim that they are needed to prevent voter fraud. When asked for examples of such fraud, however, they go silent. Occasionally, we hear allegations of the dead voting but find that the voter is actually still alive, as happened recently in Kansas, or died after casting his ballot, as we saw in South Carolina in January. The simple fact is that there is no evidence of the kind of in-person voter fraud that these laws are supposedly designed to prevent.
But we know that the laws will deny eligible voters of their constitutionally protected right to vote because such laws have done so in the past. Whether it is requiring identification to cast a ballot, drastically reducing or altogether eliminating early voting periods, or throwing arbitrary and unnecessary regulations into the registration process, the only outcome of the “War on Voting” is the inevitable turning away of eligible voters.
On May 19th, Governor Rick Scott signed into law HB 1355, a bill attacking the most fundamental right of our democracy: the right to vote. Take for instance the teacher that organized a voter registration drive for students at New Smyrna Beach High School. She received a warning letter from the State informing her that her registration drive was in violation of Governor Scott’s new law, and that she was potentially facing thousands of dollars in fines. All she was trying to do was register her high school students to vote, the same as teachers across the state often do, yet she wound up caught in these new restrictive requirements. These are the kinds of real people who suffer the consequences when bad laws are drafted to address problems that do not exist.
In essence, Florida Republicans, under the leadership of Governor Scott, have passed a broad, sweeping law containing a number of measures that I believe will limit access to the polls for minorities, seniors, and college students. For example, HB 1355 limits voting on the Sunday before Election Day, traditionally when many minorities vote. It also disenfranchises voters that move frequently like students and young professionals, by putting an end to a voter’s ability to change his or her address at the polls if the voter has moved recently from one county to another and did not update his or her address before the election. Thousands of voters who traditionally change their address at the polls will no longer be able to ensure that their vote is counted.
The Florida bill also limits voting on the Sunday before Election Day, traditionally when a disproportionate number of minorities vote. Fifty-two percent of people who voted early in Florida in 2008 were registered Democrats. Over half of the Black voters in Florida in 2008 voted early due to circumstances like a lack of access to transportation on Election Day, and jobs that do not provide time off to vote. Cutting back on the number of early voting days significantly impacts this bloc of voters.
We cannot sit idly by and let a fundamentally flawed law turn the clock back on 40 years of progress. We have not come this far only to have our fundamental voting rights trampled on. This cannot be ignored.
We must work together to strengthen our nation’s democracy and ensure that the voting rights of all Americans are protected.
Congressman Alcee L. Hastings serves as Senior Member of the House Rules Committee, Ranking Democratic Member of the U.S. Helsinki Commission, and Democratic Chairman of the Florida Delegation.