Recent events remind us that Florida truly is a Southern state. Legislation that would radically revise Florida’s election laws was passed Thursday by the Senate SB 1355 and now is headed back to the House for likely fast-tracked approval.
These changes include: shrinking the early-voting period by half, from two weeks to one, removing provisions in place since the 1970s that allow registered voters to change their names and addresses in elections records on Election Day and still vote using a regular ballot, allowing poll watchers to challenge the legitimacy of voters, which would automatically require those voters to fill out provisional ballots, which are less likely to be counted than standard ballots, and severely restricting the ability of grass-roots groups to register new voters by enacting new restrictions and fines.
While technically neutral in their intent and effect, the proposed “reforms” hark back to a dark era in Florida’s history.For most of the 20th century, Florida — like the rest of the South — tried to deny the right to vote to black citizens. Reasons ran the gamut; from race-specific vote denials to technically race-neutral rules that just happened to have the effect of excluding black voters.