Of all the things that deserve the federal government’s focus right now, the last is the reform of election laws. Yes, it’s shameful that 102-year-old Desiline Victor of Miami faced a six-hour-long line when she showed up to vote last November. Indeed, as many as 201,000 frustrated Floridians left the polls before voting that day, according to an analysis by an Ohio State researcher for the Orlando Sentinel. So on election night, President Obama was right to say “we have to fix that.” But during his State of the Union address, at which Victor was an invited guest, the president was wrong to suggest a federal fix for standardizing how elections are held across the country. A one-size-fits-all formula is not the most effective and efficient way to manage elections from Miami, which experienced long lines, to Milton in Florida’s Panhandle, which did not.
Election laws should remain a state issue, except where wholesale discrimination is found in people’s right to vote. And the responsibility for managing an election should remain a local matter, which is why we elect local supervisors of election, presumably because they know their communities best.
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Besides, it’s not as though Tallahassee hasn’t gotten the message about the need to improve Florida’s dead-last performance in calling the presidential race.
As we speak, Gov. Rick Scott and legislative leaders seem to be in agreement that state law should be changed to allow more flexibility on early voting sites, shorter ballot summaries for constitutional amendments and the restoration of 14 days for early voting, including the Sunday before Election Day. Some argue that small communities should be allowed to offer only eight days of early voting, but at a state level, it’s fair to require uniformity to protect against hijinks.
We’d also like to see Florida law updated to let people change their addresses on Election Day, so long as they come prepared with proper proof. We are a mobile society and government should work with citizens in real time. And on Election Day, the two naturally intersect.
Not only is it unnecessary for the president to meddle in election law reform, it’s not clear he really wants to. He’s called for the creation of a commission, something the League of Women Voters calls another case of “kicking the can down the road.”