As American citizens, we’re fortunate to live in the greatest democracy the world has ever known. More than anything else, it is the right to vote, to freely choose our leaders, that defines our nation.
But throughout our country’s history, there have been attempts to suppress those rights. Most notably, literacy tests and poll taxes were used to suppress the vote of African Americans and Native Americans in some Southern states as recently as the 1960s.
This election we witnessed the latest affront to our most basic right. The tens of thousands of Floridians who waited hours in line to cast their ballots were victims of sophisticated, partisan, political tactics drawn in the back rooms of right-wing extremists bent on suppressing the Democratic vote.
The effort to disenfranchise African Americans and other Democratic voters began two years out from the presidential election. Republican Gov. Rick Scott and his right-wing cohorts in the Legislature pushed through restrictions on voter registration and reductions to early voting. They illegally purged American citizens from the voter rolls.
Democrats saw the shadows looming; we knew what they were up to and we filed bills to stop them. For the past three years, I filed legislation specifically addressing early-voting issues. The bills would have expanded polling locations for early voting, restored early voting to the full 14 days, and set a baseline number of polling locations per 65,000 voters in each county. Not one of these bills was heard by Republican lawmakers, not even by one GOP Senate committee chair who represents Miami-Dade — where some of the longest waiting lines occurred.
As the problems and the frustration mounted, so, too, did the calls on Gov. Scott to expand early voting to accommodate the voters, but to no avail. Let the bottlenecks remain in urban areas where Hispanics and African Americans, Asians and Caucasians, men and women, old and young, waited patiently to cast their ballots. Many of those forced to endure those long hours in line leaned Democratic, and many of them just four years earlier helped deliver Barack Obama to his first presidential victory.
Defying all odds, in 2012 they delivered the president his second.
Incredibly, Gov. Scott now claims he wants to figure out what went wrong with the elections. One has to wonder whether that really means he’s thinking about why, despite all of his efforts, the tactics to suppress Democratic votes failed.
For the past 14 years, Republicans have ruled Florida with little regard for what most Floridians needed or wanted. Their drift to the far right not only eroded the balance of bipartisanship, it warped the balance in thinking. “Our way or the highway” isn’t the message Floridians responded to in this election.
Florida’s voters deserve better. Much better.
State Sen. Nan Rich, outgoing leader, Florida Senate
Democratic Caucus, Weston