Scott’s big chance to ease voter cynicism


What an interesting vote we have on our hands come November, one that pits old-school rigidity against progressive thought.

No, no, not the governor’s race between Republican incumbent Rick Scott and Democratic former Gov. Charlie Crist. We’re talking medical marijuana here. And the potential for some seriously cynical political manipulation on the way.

Lately I have been imagining these political opportunist types in dark, smoky rooms, figuring out new and heartless ways to manipulate elections in their candidates’ favor. (I see this movie villain, muttering and stroking a hairless cat.)

Who, they must be thinking, will show up for this one? And how can I stop them?

Certainly in the November election, we will see voters convinced of marijuana’s medicinal value, and also those who believe it’s our sure path to ruin. And we can expect much interest from young people. You know, college-age.

Which brings us to an early-voting dust-up out of Gainesville, and if you are the cynical sort, the potential for some of the aforementioned manipulating.

The Scott administration has opined that, under new law that expands location options, the University of Florida’s student union building cannot be used as an early-voting site for an upcoming municipal election in March. And, presumably, the big November election to follow.

The logic: The Reitz Union building is not a government-owned community center or convention center under the law, according to a rather narrow interpretation from Florida’s Division of Elections.

It is, however, a super-convenient place for busy students, faculty and staff — you know, the“community” that uses it as a“center” — to vote early.

Now for the cynical part: Early voting tends to help Democrats. Young voters tend to help Democrats. And did I mention that big governor election in November?

And it’s not like we haven’t already seen some dirty dealings in attempting to control who does and doesn’t vote. Remember 2012, after the Legislature reduced early voting from two weeks to eight days and eliminated “Souls to the Polls” Sunday before election day, when black churches get their members out to vote?

That outrage, later adjusted, met back then with who-me fluttering of eyelashes from those who put the plan in place. And it ran counter to everything a lot of us learned in middle school civics class: that everyone gets to vote, even people who don’t think like us. And that government’s supposed to make it easier, not harder, regardless of which political party it might help or hurt.

Gov. Scott — whose popularity numbers have at times been roughly equal to people’s enthusiasm for a root canal on a Monday morning — really, really wants to get re-elected. He’s working on his image. He loves teachers! He wants more money for schools! He'll save you a few bucks on your car registration!

But the governor could make a big impact on a small matter in Gainesville, if he so chose. In a small gesture, he could push to open that vote to everyone, whether they would tend to vote for him and his fellow Republicans or not. He could even take a shot at erasing that whole villain-with-the-hairless-cat thing.

And maybe make some of us less cynical in the process.

Sue Carlton is a columnist for the Tampa Bay Times.

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