The Miami Herald | EDITORIAL

Florida voting woes

 

HeraldEd@MiamiHerald.com

Desiline Victor wanted desperately to vote in November’s presidential election. She showed up at her North Miami precinct on the first day of early voting and inched along in a six-hour line. Three hours later, a poll worker wisely suggested that the 102-year-old “granny” should go home and return later. She did and finally voted to the applause of those in line.

On Tuesday, Ms. Victor sat with quiet dignity in the First Lady’s box at the State of the Union as President Barack Obama recognized her. It was one of the few moments during Mr. Obama’s speech when members of the often deeply divided chambers of state stood in unity.

It was a proud moment, but it should not have been.

Ms. Victor should not have had to stand in a hours-long line to vote in the richest democracy on earth the way citizens in the former Soviet Union used to stand in line for bread. And it’s even more dumbfounding when the wait could have been avoided if Republicans in the Florida Legislature had not collapsed the number of days for early voting. Then, amid pleas from elections supervisors, civic groups and voters, Gov. Rick Scott refused to extend early voting hours.

More than anything, those actions secured Florida’s position as the nation’s election laughing stock — again. No wonder many asked why Floridians were allowed to vote at all.

Now everyone’s scrambling. Among the positive steps that could make the next election operate as it should, Miami-Dade commissioners recently decided to advocate for a 14-day early voting period, including the Sunday before Election Day, which the Republican-led Legislature had eliminated. The decision is a reversal for commissioners, who had voted in December to recommend adding only the Sunday before Election Day to early voting. A nod to freshman Commissioner Jean Monestime, who back in September was calling for the state to restore early voting to 14 days.

Good, if belated, news also came from Secretary of State Ken Detzner, who recently told a House committee that Gov. Scott now favors a 14-day early voting period as well as more sites to be opened up for early voting, including courthouses and civic centers.

In Washington, Democratic Sens. Bill Nelson of Florida and California’s Barbara Boxer have co-sponsored the LINE Act to help ensure that no American voter has to wait longer than an hour to cast a ballot. The senators should also consider a good proposal from the Brennan Center for Justice. It calls for modernizing voter registration, providing more early voting opportunities, and setting minimum national standards for polling place access.

In his address on Tuesday, President Obama announced the appointment of a bipartisan commission to make recommendations on how to “improve the voting experience in America.” The president’s rare display of pique over the past four years came during his victory address on Election Night when he ad-libbed, “We have to fix that,” referring to the long lines.

It’s often said in Washington that politicians create a commission if they want an issue to go away. Americans, such as Ms. Victor, would be sorely disappointed if that were the case here.

This country is often seen as an example to the world of how a democracy should function. The Legislature and Congress must move swiftly to ensure voting is accessible and convenient to all voters in Florida and throughout the nation. That’s not a luxury — it’s a fundamental right.

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