Pizza, popsicles and port-a-potties may have helped secure the decisive win for President Barack Obama and other Democrats in Florida. Obama’s data-driven campaign machine and the popular president himself deserve most of the credit. But the GOP-majority legislature may have unwittingly given Obama a boost with a restrictive election law reportedly targeted at Democratic and minority voters. Progressives, left-leaning groups and the NAACP, which did not endorse Obama, rallied in opposition to the law and used it to motivate voters, including blacks for whom restrictions on early voting triggered a generations-old sensitivity to having their vote suppressed.
“Instead of being intimidated because of these laws, people came out because of these laws,” said NAACP Senior Vice President for Campaigns Marvin Randolph. “Our community, instead of letting the law slow them down, they decided they would vote harder, vote earlier.”
Early voting increased 17 percent in Florida along with Virginia, Ohio and Colorado, states where other voting law restrictions were passed, Randolph said. “People pushed back. People fought back,” he said.
The 2011 law shrank early voting from two weeks to eight days, imposed restrictions on voter registration groups and forced more Floridians to cast provisional ballots than in previous years. Former Republican Party of Florida Chairman Jim Greer, former Gov. Charlie Crist and two GOP consultants assert that the law was born of
Republicans’ frustration about minority and Democratic turnout that led to Obama’s success in Florida in 2008, when 54 percent of black voters cast ballots during the early voting period. But progressives, union organizers and black leaders say the law backfired. They put their organizational skills to work before and during the election.