Voter Suppression Series Part II: Florida

Florida has had a rough election that hasn’t even started yet, especially for Latino voters. There have already been several overreaches which have been pulled back in Florida, either by the justice system for illegality or by Republicans for marketing purposes to bury the public outrage in the news cycle. This does not, however, indicate that the voter suppression efforts have stopped, or even slowed down.

Jim Greer, former Chair of the Florida Republican Party, went on Al Sharpton’s show to boldly cast the nearly transparent curtain aside from the ugly face of the Wizard of Florida. In Florida, as in other states, it’s not the Democrats’ imaginations that are creating voter suppression issues; rather, it’s the systemic and predictable way in which Republicans are trying to discourage people likely to vote Democrat. They do this by creating arbitrary and unevenly enforced laws to create confusion and ultimately discourage the other side’s voters.

After an electoral spanking last cycle that was largely the backlash to neoconservative overreaches in the Bush Jr. years, Republicans were reflecting on how to deal with the surge of new and minority voters. “I sat in on many meetings where it was discussed how to make sure what happened in 2008, when Obama brought out the college-aged voters, the minority voters, never happened again” said Jim Greer.

Greer talked about how he was invited into many discussions as the head of the GOP in Florida, so he knows where some particularly rotten bodies are buried. There were discussions that early voting was going against Republicans, and so they should shorten it to prevent African American churches from organizing to bring out the vote for early voting. Greer had even given sworn deposition that there were discussions on suppression, but never once in his 3 1/2 years as GOP Chair of Florida had he seen a meeting on voter fraud; he went so far as to call it a “marketing tool of radical Republicans” in state government.

Florida has a rather ugly history of voter suppression, and so is covered by Section 5 of the Voting Rights Act, requiring pre-clearance to any new laws which might throw it back to its much more openly racist past. Florida made 80 changes to its voting laws in 2011, and received pre-clearance for all but four. Which ones didn’t get pre-clearance? The ones with the strongest racial overtones that they tried to slip by quietly.

Florida is required by the Voting Rights Act to offer a certain number of early voting hours, however, they tried to structure them in a way so as to discourage minority groups from voting. For example, they did away with early voting on the Sunday before the election, a time known for a huge black turnout because churches in the African American community push their voters to the polls that day; “Souls to the Polls” is what the churches call it. Republicans know that they won’t get more than single digits of that vote, so they want to do away with it as much as they can, cutting down on voter hours and doing away with the Sunday before Election Day to hamstring the Souls. The courts struck this down, finding that it didn’t offer the time required to safeguard the vote from racist rednecks by the Voting Rights Act.

In yet another transparent overreach, Florida came out with a law that required all third-party registration organizations to turn in their paperwork within 48 hours, or be faced with harsh fines. The League of Women Voters called this an impossible requirement that chased them out of Florida, while a high school teacher registering her students faced thousands of dollars in fines. Judge Robert Hinkle, presiding over the challenge to this law, said the law imposes a “harsh and impractical” requirement and struck it down.

Although the 48 hour requirement was struck down, Rachel Maddow shared some information almost too hard to believe. While Republican registration has remained largely unchanged in July of election year between 2008 and this year, jumping a bit from 95,525 to 128,039, Democrat registration has fallen from 259,894 to 11,365— I defy Republicans to come up with an explanation and straight face.

Looking at some of the harsh laws which Florida has passed, it’s easy to see how Republicans have implemented the game plan that Greer talked about them crafting for the past four years. They’re throwing anything they can that may stick to get fewer African Americans and Latinos to vote, constantly discovering secret new belts to punch below. It’s had a devastating affect on registration already, and the Republicans will fight for every law they can keep on the books without costing them more than it’s worth. With Romney’s unpopularity, this move is important enough to them that Republicans will probably be tattooing this issue’s talking points on their henchmen.

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