Will the 2012 election be Rick Scott’s Waterloo?
Florida is quickly becoming known primarily for screwing up elections — from the Rutherford B. Hayes debacle in 1876 to the 2000 recount, to the 2012 race. Its conduct, including vote-counting that dragged on well past Nov. 6, can only be judged a failure.
There is plenty of blame to go around: the three Democratic-leaning counties in South Florida, Broward, Miami-Dade and Palm Beach, were stricken by machines that broke down, precincts that ran out of ballots, absentee ballots that were mailed late or not at all and, in Broward, 1,003 votes that simply vanished when early-vote counts were updated on the elections website. (Broward Supervisor of Elections Brenda Snipes blamed that on an election worker with poor math skills, which is hardly reassuring.)
In Miami-Dade, the disastrous attempt to extend early absentee voting on the Sunday before Election Day, but only in deep-red Doral, was an exercise in well-intentioned futility.
But it is the rot at the top that should be most concerning to Floridians, because while the county debacles were caused by human error and incompetence, the interference with the voting process engineered in Tallahassee was deliberate.
There was the clumsy attempt to purge the voter rolls to prevent nonexistent voter fraud — which was pursued by Secretary of State Ken Detzner on the orders of Gov. Scott. That saw Florida brushed back by the U.S. Justice Department and ultimately cutting a deal with federal immigration authorities, effectively, to scrutinize voters with Hispanic surnames. Detzner’s predecessor Kurt Browning resigned in January, having delayed implementation of the purge because he lacked confidence in the accuracy of the initial list’s 180,000 names.
In the end, Scott’s purge yielded only embarrassment, as a World War II veteran became its most high profile victim.
And the purge’s obvious goal — minimizing the impact of Florida’s growing, and largely Democratic, non-Cuban Hispanic population — didn’t even work. President Obama won a commanding 62 percent of Florida’s Hispanic vote in winning the state.
Scott and his party’s attempts to cleanse the electorate of voters who don’t favor Republicans didn’t start or end there. Before that, they took an axe to early voting, cutting the state’s 14-day period to just eight days.
As if to put an exclamation point on their endeavor, Republicans lopped off the Sunday before Election Day, which traditionally is deemed by black churches nationwide as “souls to the polls” Sunday when in those states that allow early voting, churches prod and bus their congregants to the voting booths.
The result? An epic backlash took place in Florida, as black churches and voting-rights advocates moved the souls to vote a weekend earlier, and early-voting lines stretched around blocks and into the dead of night.
Black turnout in Florida matched 2008’s historic levels. But because early voting takes place at just a handful of locations, compared to the thousands available polling places statewide on Election Day, the inefficiency of the process magnified Florida’s shame. The whole world watched as long lines of Floridians waited for six, even eight hours, to vote. It was like watching the first free election in a Third World country emerging from the throes of dictatorship.
Meanwhile, Florida’s petty potentate, Gov. Scott, refused to extend the time to vote, despite the spectacle and despite the precedent set by the previous then-Republican governor, Charlie Crist. Remarkably, after the election, Scott simply repeated over and over again to reporters the talking point that he thought the process went just fine.
Adding to the chaos: a lengthy ballot, stuffed with vague and intricate constitutional amendments —11 of them — all written in legalese and placed there by the Legislature. It would be incredibly cynical to presume they did so in order to gum up the works, confuse voters or simply frustrate them. But it’s hard not to be cynical, given the conduct of Florida’s leaders. After all, one of the eight rejected amendments would have given these elected officials the authority to punish state Supreme Court justices whose rulings they don’t like.
Florida is badly in need of election reform, and new leadership. The state with the third most electoral votes (tied with New York, now equal in both fundraising importance and irrelevance to the outcome on election night), a state with 10 more Electoral College votes than Ohio (the state that now decides elections), and 16 more than Virginia, can no longer afford to be the nation’s Election Night laughingstock.