Political Hay

A Full Nelson on Voting Rights

Bill Nelson, Dick Durbin, and Eric Holder ham it up as only Democrat demagogues can.

By 12.15.11

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TAMPA -- Those who don't believe it's going to be a long and nasty 11 months before Election Day should just look at how Attorney General Eric Holder and Democrats across the country are accusing Republicans of attempting to keep Democratic core constituents -- minorities, young people, the poor, the disabled, etc. -- away from the polls.

These charges are a symptom and preview of that party's campaign, which promises to be built on little more than attempting to gin up racial and social class resentments. My sources in the Democratic National Committee tell me that group is considering changing its anthem from "Happy Days are Here Again" to "We Wuz Robbed." (See November 2000.)

Requirements for voting have gotten a bit loosey-goosey, in Florida and elsewhere, over the past few cycles. In many jurisdictions people need do little more than show up at polls, with or without credible ID, in order to be handed a ballot. There have been well-documented instances of fraud, particularly involving third party groups registering voters.

Rules for obtaining an absentee ballot are particularly slack, with some counties insisting on little more than a pulse for receiving one (though when past practices in Chicago and select other precincts are considered, insisting on a pulse may be a step in the right direction). Any attempt of late to make voting more secure, no matter how reasonable, has been branded by Democrats as an attempt to disenfranchise their voters.

In order to save taxpayer money and to make voter fraud more difficult, the Florida Legislature last year passed legislation that reduces early-voting days in the state from 14 to eight while requiring that third party organizations that register voters turn in registration paper work within 48 hours. (This last requirement is in response to incidents in Florida where third parties did not turn in registration paperwork at all.) Several other states passed similar measures.

In Florida Democrats have reacted to these measured steps in much the same way Dracula reacted to sunlight. Reading or listening to Democratic leading lights one would have to conclude that Jim Crow is back in town. In a press release from Florida Democratic U.S. Senator Bill Nelson, running for re-election this year, we read this: "The right to vote is, and always has been, at the foundation of our democracy. But this fundamental right is under serious attack right now, in Florida and more than a dozen other states. Many believe a handful of super-rich conservative activists are behind an orchestrated effort to keep millions of seniors, younger voters, and minorities from casting ballots next year."

On reading this, I sent a case of de-caf directly to Nelson's Washington office. He and his staff clearly already have a well-thumbed copy of Saul Alinsky's playbook and etiquette manual.

As delusional as these charges may seem, Nelson had no difficultly getting his Democratic colleague Dick Durbin of Illinois, a state with a colorful history of voting practices, to go along with the gag. Durbin, chairman of the Subcommittee on Human Rights and the Law of the Senate Judiciary Committee, will hold an "investigative field hearing" in Tampa in January because, Durbin says, Florida's new law "will almost certainly disenfranchise a wide swath of the state's young, minority, senior, disabled, rural and low income voters."

Neither Nelson nor Durbin have said how the new law will keep these Democratic constituencies from the polls, or in any way inconvenience them.

"Absolutely not," said Lane Wright, Florida governor Rick Scott's press secretary, when I asked him if Florida's new law put up any barriers to any eligible Floridian voting. "Governor Scott signed this bill to ensure that Florida's elections are secure and free of fraud." He said. "Every eligible Floridian is free to vote. We have confidence the system is free and accurate."

Wright said while the law cuts back on the early voting days it allows the same number of hours for the polls to operate, including on weekends. In the two-week system there were hours that polls were open but very few voters showed up. The new system is more efficient and because of weekend hours allows even more voters an opportunity to vote at their convenience.

"There's absolutely no evidence whatsoever that the new law will lead to any voter suppression," said Chris Cate, communications director for the office of the Florida Secretary of State, the agency that administers voting in Florida.

Cate said the process of registering to vote and then to make address changes ahead of elections is very easy. Voters wishing to make address changes at the polls on Election Day will have to vote by provisional ballot, which will only be counted after the county Supervisor of Elections Office verifies that the voter is legit. But address changes before Election Day are easy now and can be made by phone or by email.

The chief sponsor in the Florida House of the bill that created the new law is unimpressed with the charges against it. "There's nothing in the election bill that limits the voting rights of anybody in Florida," said Dennis Baxley (R- Ocala). "What it does is protect our elections from mishaps and mischief. On early voting we didn't cut one hour, just changed the schedule so polls could be open all day."

Baxley calls the complaints about the new law "overtly political." He says, "There has to be accountability in third party registration. When you pay people to get signatures they're going to create them. A lot of that happened."

The charges against Florida's new election law are dopey enough that the Florida ACLU has filed suit against implementing the law.

Bob Sanchez, policy director for the James Madison Institute in Tallahassee, a free market think tank, says it's vital to ensure that people who vote are who they say they are and are citizens eligible to vote, as the new Florida law attempts to do.

"It's an ultimate irony that some voices are saying how sacred voting rights are, but as soon as elected officials do something they don't like they rush to unelected officials in the courts to overturn what the elected officials have done," Sanchez said.

These sorts of transparently baseless and cynical charges against voting laws are being made in several states, without any serious scrutiny given to them by the local liberal media. Even Attorney General Holder is in on the act. In a speech in Austin, Texas, Tuesday he anguished over unspecified attempts by you-know-who to suppress minority voter turnout. He said he would be casting an eye on Florida, as well as other states.

"We need election systems that are free from fraud, discrimination, and partisan influence -- and that are more, not less, accessible to the citizens of this country," Holder said.

If only, huh? Perhaps Holder could sub out part of the access portion of this project to the Black Panthers. Baxley is unimpressed, saying, "Eric Holder needs to clean his own house rather than trying to clean ours. He has his own problems." 

I left multiple messages at Nelson's office and that of Durbin's subcommittee asking for clarification on how Florida's new laws keep anyone away from the polls, let alone selects Democratic constituencies to disenfranchise. My calls were not returned. Can't hardly blame these folks. It's never easy or fun to defend the indefensible.

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About the Author

Larry Thornberry is a writer in Tampa.