When I was a cadet at the Air Force Academy in the ’80s, we were taught that the answer to any question that began with “Why,” was “No excuse.”
It was intended to get our teenaged minds out of the habit of explaining and rationalizing failure and to make problem solving the first instinct. It was annoying yet effective. Florida election officials could use some of that discipline right now.
Why did Florida have the longest wait time in the country? Why were voters forced to stand in line for six hours or more, some still standing at midnight or later to vote?
Why were so many poll workers ill-informed about the proper use of provisional ballots?
Why weren’t their more machines and staff on hand when massive turnout was predicted and early voting had been shortened despite a lengthy ballot?
Why didn’t every Supervisor of Election extend hours for over-the-counter voting? Why are we once again a national punch line?
No excuse. No excuse, whatsoever!
Florida is once again a laughingstock. Stolid and snarky pundits alike are having a field day. Google “Florida” and “election” for an avalanche of stories.
Then there is this scathing commentary from Jon Stewart about Florida that describes us as thankfully irrelevant, like a benign tumor.
Beyond the usual “Flori-duh” references, check out the memes popping up all over the social media.
So, in the spirit of not accepting excuses from those in charge of Florida’s elections, and not making any ourselves as Floridians, it is time to strike while the iron is hot.
Former Republican Gov. Charlie Crist and the ousted head of the state GOP, Jim Greer, have disclosed and criticized a clear strategy of making elections harder to help conservative candidates.
We have to make the long lines and the voter suppression backlash a rallying point right now while the memory and the public drubbing are fresh. The governor, the Legislature and every supervisor of elections need to be held accountable for their actions and inaction.
This problem isn’t going to get any easier in Florida. When he voted for laws that make it harder for people to vote, then-Sen. Mike Bennett, a Republican representing District 21, had this to say:
“Do you read the stories about the people in Africa? The people in the desert, who literally walk two and three hundred miles so they can have the opportunity to do what we do, and we want to make it more convenient? How much more convenient do you want to make it? Do we want to go to their house? Take the polling booth with us?
“Why would we make it any easier? I want ’em to fight for it. I want ’em to know what it’s like. I want them to go down there, and have to walk across town to go over and vote.”
That guy, Bennett, just got elected as the Manatee County Supervisor of Elections.
This ongoing, predictable election debacle hurts Florida. It shakes our confidence in the outcome of elections. It discourages full participation in the process for those who can’t afford to miss work or physically handle the long lines. In Homestead many voters with children in tow were plunged into darkness when the Homestead stadium turned off their lights.
This repeated election embarrassment also hurts Florida’s reputation in ways that matter. It sends a message that harms our ability to attract the best and the brightest.
Being the viewed as a state that lacks the infrastructure to count votes does not inspire confidence in the high salary, job-generating companies looking to relocate or expand.
Finally, we should send a thank you card and a key lime pie to Ohio, to thank them for deciding the election, sparing us the amplified embarrassment of our collective blunders being under a larger national microscope.
Why don’t we fix our broken election process in Florida? No Excuse.
Nadine Smith is the executive director of Equality Florida.