by Carl Hiaasen

According to a new Quinnipiac University poll of Florida voters, Rick Scott is now one of the country's most unpopular governors, a dubious feat after only four months in office.

It's bad news for Republican Party bosses, but all is not lost. Scott recently signed a new election bill that is callously designed to suppress voter turnout, making it harder for many disgruntled Floridians to cast a valid ballot in 2012.

Democrats outnumber Republicans in the state, so GOP leaders are desperate to find ways to keep certain people away from the polls. One of the legislature's top priorities was to change the voting rules to avoid a repeat of 2008, when Barack Obama won the state's 27 electoral votes on his way to the presidency.

Obama benefited from early-voting days, which proved popular among minorities, college students and retirees. Republican officials became incensed during the election when then-Gov. Charlie Crist -- one of their own -- decided to extend polling hours to accommodate the long lines.

The nerve of that guy, making it easier for common citizens to vote!

Determined not to let this whole democracy thing get out of hand, the GOP-held legislature crafted a bill that reduces the number of early voting days from 15 to eight, and requires some voters who have moved to cast provisional ballots, a deliberate inconvenience aimed at students.

Historically, provisional ballots are counted at a much lower rate than regular ones, meaning many young voters won't get heard -- exactly what Scott and the Republican leadership want.

The new bill also throws out a rule that had been in effect for 40 years allowing Floridians to update their legal addresses when they arrive to vote. Now you can only do that if you moved within the same county.

To hinder community groups that register first-time voters, the law requires volunteers for organizations such as the League of Women Voters to register with the state as if they were sex offenders.

Upon signing the anti-voting bill into law, Gov. Spaceman said the following: "I want people to vote, but I also want to make sure there's no fraud involved in elections. All of us as individuals that vote want to make sure that our elections are fair and honest."

Those who recall what happened here in the 2000 presidential election can't help but chuckle at the comic aspect of a Republican governor pretending to fret about voter fraud.

Interestingly, the officials who are most familiar with the fraud issue -- the county supervisors of elections -- are mostly opposed to the new voting law, and say current voter-data bases are fairly accurate. They actually asked the legislature for more early-voting sites, and were of course rebuffed.

The statewide association of elections supervisors also warned Scott that imposing the restrictive provisions could cause a fiasco at the polls in 2012, just what we need to reinforce our national reputation for electoral dysfunction.

When the governor promised to bring all those new jobs to Florida, who knew he was talking about lawyers?

Nobody except a handful of GOP honchos thought the punitive new voting law was a good idea. The League of Women Voters, labor unions and other citizen groups lobbied against it, to no avail. Scott's office reported receiving more than 15,300 calls and emails, with opposition running 10 to one.

It's significant that the governor's own overseer of elections, Secretary of State Kurt Browning, never once spoke in favor of the legislation. Only after Scott signed the bill did Browning offer a lukewarm endorsement.

The effort to manipulate elections by making it difficult for some people to vote has been around since the nation was founded. It's a strategy that was infamously codified in the Deep South by "literacy tests" intended to disenfranchise black citizens, which prompted the Voting Rights Act of 1965.

Congressional Democrats have asked the Justice Department to block Florida's new law, which already took effect in all but five counties -- Monroe, Hendry, Hardee, Collier and Hillsborough. There the federal government must approve changes to voter-eligibility rules.

In addition to impeding potential Democratic voters, Republicans lawmakers have tacked several items on the November 2012 ballot in hopes of galvanizing their own base. You'll see an anti-abortion amendment, an anti-Obamacare amendment and still another measure that would allow tax dollars to be funneled to religious institutions.

The GOP's dream scenario is a low turnout dominated by a grumpy, aging core of conservative white people who can't stand Obama. With their party outnumbered on Florida's voter rolls, top Republicans hope that rigging the voting rules will improve their chances to recapture the White House.

You could call it democracy with selective exclusion.

Or you could call it what it is.


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Florida GOP Won't Let Democracy Get Out of Hand | Politics

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