If this case had come out of a state other than Florida, the federal judge would have only been belaboring the obvious. But Judge Mark Walker knew that Gov. Rick Scott was in sore need of some basic civics. “No right is more precious in a free country than that of having a voice in the election of those who make the laws under which, as good citizens, we must live,” Judge Walker wrote, quoting the late Justice Hugo Black from a landmark 1964 Supreme Court decision. “Other rights, even the most basic, are illusory if the right to vote is undermined.” In this case, Hurricane Matthew had contributed to the undermining. Hundreds of thousands of coastal residents had heeded Gov. Scott’s warning and fled inland as the storm menaced Florida. Government offices were closed. Mail delivery was disrupted. All this as the Oct. 11 registration deadline approached for Floridians hoping to cast ballots in the general election.
The Florida Democratic Party urged Gov. Scott to extend the voter registration deadline. Scott said tough noogies. “I’m not going to extend it. Everybody has had a lot of time to register.” Scott told reporters. “On top of that, we have lots of opportunities to vote: early voting, absentee voting, Election Day. So I don’t intend to make any changes.” Of course, all those “opportunities to vote” aren’t much use to citizens who missed the registration deadline. So the state Democratic Party sued Scott and his handpicked secretary of state, a former beer lobbyist named Ken Detzner.
Scott and his beer meister already had a nasty reputation for trying to tamp down voter turnout. Back in 2012, they lost another federal lawsuit after their ham-handed attempt to “cleanse” the voter registration rolls of 180,000 supposed non-citizens before the presidential election. But when county election supervisors examined their list, most of those names — many of them Hispanic — actually belonged to eligible voters.
They also pushed through harsh new restrictions on voter registration groups. They cut back on the early voting opportunities for the 2012 general election. And since he has been in office, Gov. Scott has restored voting rights to only 2,200 convicted felons — compared to 155,000 restorations granted by Gov. Charlie Crist in the previous administration.