Back in 2006, when the 1965 Voting Rights Act was up for renewal, a number of Republican lawmakers protested that its time had passed; that the states and municipalities that once worked to keep blacks away from the polls and locked into second-class citizenry had learned their lesson.
But it’s a lesson in which Florida Gov. Rick Scott and his GOP brethren are sorely in need of remediation.
Recently, Scott signed into law a bill that must be the most blatant attempt at limiting the access of black and poor people to the polls since the days when they were asked to guess how many bubbles were in a bar of soap.
Besides cutting the number of early voting days from 15 to eight, the law bans voters who have moved to a different county from changing their addresses at the polls. Those voters, many of whom tend to be college students and working poor people who move a lot, would have to cast provisional ballots instead. Numerous studies show that provisional ballots are more likely to be thrown out.
But perhaps the most repressive part of the new law forces third-party groups who register voters to turn in all new registration forms in two days instead of 10. It also requires each person who signs up voters to be registered with the state or face fines that could cost as much as $1,000.
Interestingly enough, black and Latino voters – the ones less likely to vote Republican – are more likely to be registered by third-party groups. Forcing someone to check in with the state simply to register people to vote is cumbersome and unnecessary – especially since at the end of the day, the validity of those registrations are checked against a statewide database.
Keep in mind that there’s been little or no fraud attached to people who register voters or, for that matter, to any of the practices that the new law is restricting. Making them put their name on some state list for signing people up to vote smacks of a time in which some places posted the names of black people in the newspaper for daring to vote. This practice exposed them to intimidation by racists.
Because Florida’s new restrictions are designed to keep certain voters away from the polls and are clearly a product of a legislature that has been hostile to voting rights since Florida went blue for Barack Obama in 2008, I wonder if those who help others to vote won’t be subjected to harassment as well.
Ironically, the one thing that might save scores of Florida voters from being inconvenienced away from the polls is Section 5 of the Voting Rights Act. It requires certain states and municipalities that once disenfranchised minorities to get an OK from the Justice Department to change their voting practices.