Time to Vote

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The right to vote is the most basic right of American citizens. We take it for granted, so much so that only rarely do more than half of registered voters bother to vote.

If only the right to complain about the government really did require voting in the last election…we’d either have more voting or less complaining. Both attractive options.

But as voting is a right, there are few strings attached to it. Or at least there used to be. In the past few years, states have thrown a number of roadblocks up to actually discourage voting by some citizens. The claim of voter fraud is used frequently but it has been proven repeatedly that voter fraud is very rare – so rare that compared to the anxiety over it, it’s a regular unicorn — downright mythological. The relentless pursuit of a solution to a non-existent problem still manages to disenfranchise real citizens.

How are voters disenfranchised?

Decades ago, laws requiring a poll tax or literacy test effectively kept African-Americans and working class white voters away from the polls. While that is now widely recognized for the voter suppression that it was, those who would suppress the vote have new tools now. All in the guise of ‘common sense’ and protecting the ‘integrity of the ballot box.’

Florida is one of the toughest states to have your voting rights reinstated after a felony conviction. Most states allow felons to vote once they have completed any prison term, probation or parole. Florida is one of a handful of states that only restore voting rights though a petition to the government after a lengthy waiting period. Don’t think this is a big issue? In 2014, more than one in ten Floridians and nearly one in four African-American Floridians were barred from the polls due to felony convictions.

Purging voter rolls — something our own state has done, or tried to do. In 2012, Governor Rick Scott ordered a voter purge of 180,000 voters who were deemed questionable after comparing voter rolls to driver’s license data. (Minorities made up 87% of the names on the list.) He did this less than 90 days before the 2012 election. The Secretary of State whittled the list to 2,600, then to 198. Two women challenged the purge when they were dropped from voter rolls. They were naturalized citizens from Nicaragua and Haiti, both of whom had the right to vote. In a recurring and easily predictable follow up, the State of Florida lost a legal challenge, again. But hey, it’s only our money.

Many states, including Florida now have voter ID requirements, when historically, voting didn’t require an ID. Supporters argue the laws are ‘common-sense’ to reduce fraud and it’s easy to get a photo ID. Opponents argue that fraud is extremely rare and that voter ID is part of a plan to throw up barriers to voters that adversely effect minority groups, handicapped, the poor and elderly-all less likely to hold photo IDs. The U.S. Supreme Court continues to hear challenges to state voter ID laws.

Some proponents of Photo ID laws fail to grasp that not everyone drives or flies or has a photo credit card. It’s easy to assume everyone is like you and has a lifestyle like you, but the fact it there are thousands who have no reason to have a photo ID and getting one is a burden, one we’ve placed on U.S. citizens if they wish to exercise their right to vote. If you don’t think it’s hard to get a photo ID, walk into the DMV and tell them you want a driver’s license.

Some states have seen more creative efforts — wrong information about absentee ballot deadlines, voting places, days or times sent out by groups that later claim typographical error.

Some states have cut back their early voting days, like Florida did in 2012 when we went from 14 early voting days to 8. Maybe not ironically, that’s the same year most of us stood in line for hours to vote due a 4-page ballot and not enough scanners. Since then, at least in Lee County, a good percentage of voters choose to vote by mail. As of earlier this week 38% of registered Lee voters have requested a vote by mail ballot for the August 30th primary. That is a huge increase from the August 2012 primary when only 21.48% of registered voters cast a ballot at all. Hopefully now everyone returns their ballot.

It’s no coincidence that efforts to limit voting exploded after the Supreme Court removed the preclearance provision of the Voting Rights Act in 2011. Since 2012, 17 states have put new restrictions on voting. I suppose we are expected to believe that voter fraud skyrocketed in 2012, but we’re not that gullible are we?

The concept that politicians would manipulate our voting system in order to win an election is repugnant, or should be to any citizen of the U.S. who values the Constitution and the rights of citizens. Whether it’s gerrymandering or purging voter lists or requiring an ID of voters who have no other reason to have one, it is patently un-American to try to win by limiting who can vote.

In this issue voters will find all the information needed to vote early or by mail. More is at www.lee.vote.

Exercise your rights as a proud American – Vote!
Missy Layfield