There will be an abundance of issues competing for state lawmakers’ attention when they convene starting Tuesday for the 2016 legislative session. Voting reform, however, is not among them. Not unexpected — after all, it is an election year — but it’s too bad all the same.
Florida, in some ways, remains a regressive state when it comes to making voting convenient, secure and easy to access for those who are eligible. Too much of such stagnation is mired in politics and policies calculated to disenfranchise some Floridians, be they ex-felons who must petition the state to regain their ability to vote, students who couldn’t find a voting site on major campuses or African-American voters who have seen early-voting sites curtailed in their neighborhoods.
And then there are the lines, the interminable lines that, in 2012, made Florida pretty much irrelevant in the presidential election.
It’s time for state legislators to take more of their cues from their constituents, who increasingly are not waiting to schlep to the polls on Election Day — a long-enduring but increasingly archaic event that pays homage to the country’s agrarian roots. But farmers no longer need an entire day to travel by horse to the county seat to vote.
In the 2012 and 2014 elections, Floridians cast more ballots at early-voting locations or by mail than in person on Election Day.
Recent legislative actions have shown that voters are making themselves heard. Lawmakers already have approved online voter registration, set to begin next year in time for the elections of 2018.
This actually will put Florida ahead of several other states. And as long as potential voters can be assured of the integrity of the system used, that there will be no weird shenanigans — this is Florida — and that they have ample time for redress should something go wrong, then this is a huge stride for a state that has been reluctant to make voting more, not less, convenient.
But as a recent story by the Herald/Times Tallahassee Bureau highlighted, many states in the nation are making voting as simple as possible for their residents.
In Austin, Texas, shoppers can cast a vote at the grocery store. They’ve been doing so since the 1990s — Texas, y’all! Alaskans will have a ballot at their fingertips, voting online.
In Florida, voters still have to request an absentee ballot, while in Colorado, eligible voters automatically get a ballot in the mail. This year, by state law, Floridians who vote absentee must update their signatures. Many, including several who wrote the Editorial Board, found it suspicious. However, it is a step to help keep ballots secure. Signatures do change over time, and absentee ballots, as opposed to voting at the polls, are more vulnerable to compromise and fraud.
Florida has made strides, but has a ways to go in making voting truly fair and accessible. If state officials just take the politics out of it, the state can be a national leader in voting reform.