Florida's early-voting mess: Is Gov. Rick Scott suppressing Democratic votes?
Democrats sue the Sunshine State, insisting that the governor's decision to limit early-voting days has resulted in endless lines at polling stations
Florida is intimately familiar with electoral controversies, and while the state is not at hanging-chad level yet, it appears the 2012 election is no exception. Democrats this weekend sued the Sunshine State to extend early-voting hours in southern Florida, "after a stream of complaints from voters who sometimes waited nearly seven hours to vote or who did not vote at all because they could not wait for so long to do so," says Lizette Alvarez at The New York Times. Republican Gov. Rick Scott has refused to comply, maintaining that the early-voting process is running smoothly. Here's what you should know:
Why were the lines so long? Last year, Scott and Florida's Republican-controlled legislature enacted legislation reducing early voting from 14 days to eight, and eliminating early voting on the final Sunday before the election, traditionally a huge turnout day. As a result, voters who can't make it to the polls on Election Day (mostly because they'll be at work) overwhelmed voting stations in Miami-Dade, Broward, Palm Beach, and Hillsborough counties on Saturday.
Why did Florida limit early voting? Republicans justified the move by citing the specter of voter fraud. However, there is little evidence that voter fraud has ever had more than an infinitesimally small impact on elections, leading Democrats to claim that Scott and the GOP are suppressing Democratic voters. In 2008, President Obama won the battleground state with a surge of early voting, and early voters generally tend to favor Democratic candidates. "There's no real reason to enact these sort of tactics except to make voting as onerous as possible," says Ta-Nehisi Coates at The Atlantic.
Do early voters have another option? Yes. Officials in several counties said they would allow early voters to cast in-person absentee ballots on Sunday. However, in one highly publicized incident, a polling station in Doral, in Miami-Dade, was shut down after only two hours, leading about 200 enraged voters to chant, "Let us vote! Let us vote!" The station was eventually re-opened.
How are Floridians responding to the controversy? They aren't happy, particularly those trying to vote early. And Scott's predecessor, former Republican Charlie Crist, ripped Scott for not extending early voting, saying, "The only thing that makes any sense as to why this is happening and being done is voter suppression." Scott, who spent Monday campaigning with Mitt Romney, was dealing with an abysmal approval rating of 37 percent even before the complaints started rolling in.
What can the Democrats' lawsuit accomplish? Probably little, given that Election Day is almost here. However, "early lawsuits in Florida could be a preemptive strike from Democrats in case they decide to contest Florida after the election," says Alana Goodman at Commentary. Indeed, both sides are gearing up for a potential legal battle. "Lawyers for both parties are descending on key swing states," says Matt Viser at The Boston Globe, "anticipating legal challenges after what could become a razor-thin decision that rests on how, where, and which ballots are counted."