Just two hours after the U.S. Supreme Court gutted the 1965 Voting Rights Act last week, Texas celebrated by reinstating a discredited voter ID law, designed to tamp down those damn nuisance minority voters. Mississippi was not far behind.
Florida, I expect, will be more subtle. The politics hereabouts, in an evenly divided state, are a bit more delicate.
Texas was among a slew of states, including Florida, that leading up to the 2012 election passed clever new laws designed to diminish voter turnout.
The purported goal, of course, was to prevent voter fraud, though anyone who follows elections in South Florida knew that to be fallacious. None of those “reforms” addressed absentee-ballot fraud, the mechanism that had been used to corrupt one local election after another.
While there was little evidence that illegal immigrants or other categories of unregistered voters would risk felony convictions to cast illegal votes, there was plenty of evidence — along with election-fraud convictions — indicating that vote brokers in Miami or Hialeah often collect and bundle absentee ballots, occasionally filling them out and forging voter signatures. Not that South Florida invented the practice. The profitable enterprise of absentee ballot fraud has a long, sordid, well-documented history in American elections. But earlier this month, the Herald’s Marc Caputo and Patricia Mazzei reported that the illegal brokers in Miami-Dade had gone high-tech in the 2012 election, devising a complicated scheme to fraudulently request 2,046 absentee ballots online, hiding their IP addresses by routing the applications through computers in India and Britain.
If clean elections had been the real goal of the so-called reformers going into 2012, they’d surely have tightened the laws regulating absentees. They didn’t. Instead, they crafted statutes, sometimes word for word, from boilerplate legislation concocted by the right-wing American Legislative Exchange Council.
The Florida Legislature and Gov. Rick Scott championed a set these so-called reforms. Maribel Balbin, president of the non-partisan League of Women Voters of Miami-Dade, told the Presidential Commission on Election Administration on Friday that these “sweeping election laws” were obviously designed for “partisan manipulation.”
That 128-page election “reform” bill cut back on early voting and eliminated the long-honored practice in Florida of allowing voters who have moved since the last election to register their new addresses on election day.
And the law put onerous new restrictions on third-party registration groups, like the League of Women Voters. Balbin told the commission that the statutes “made it almost impossible for us to register voters.”
The League suspended registration efforts for nearly a year. Meanwhile, the state launched a clumsy purge of the voter rolls that zapped a number of legitimate voters, mostly Hispanics. Finally, the U.S. Justice Department and the federal courts intervened, invoking the landmark Voting Rights Act.
But the Supreme Court changed the rules last week, freeing up the 15 states covered by the Voting Rights Act — including most of the old Confederacy — from the requirement that they first submit proposed changes in election laws for review by the Justice Department. Without the so-called “preclearance” requirement, states are free to pass new voter laws without federal interference. Voters can still take the allegations of discrimination into federal court, except those cases most likely won’t be settled until after the disputed election.