After last Tuesday's election, Manatee County, Florida got a new Supervisor of Elections. State Sen. Mike Bennett (R-Bradenton) won that office easily because of his expertise and experience after serving 12 years as a legislator in Tallahassee.
It was during that time when, in 2011, Republicans in the Florida legislature passed strict new election laws, and Bennet used his "expertise" to play a roll in changing those laws. Here is part of a speech he made just before the law's passage:
"Many people don’t even know where and when they’re supposed to go vote," he added. "Voting is a privilege. How easy should it be?"
“Do you read the stories about the people in Africa? The people in the desert, who literally walk two and three hundred miles so they can have the opportunity to do what we do, and we want to make it more convenient? How much more convenient do you want to make it?” he said. “Do we want to go to their house? Take the polling booth with us?”
“This is a hard-fought privilege,” he added. “This is something people die for. You want to make it convenient? The guy who died to give you that right, it was not convenient. Why would we make it any easier? I want ‘em to fight for it. I want ‘em to know what it’s like. I want them to go down there, and have to walk across town to go over and vote,” he said.
Yes, this man who thinks exercising your right to vote should be harder, is now in charge of elections in Manatee County.
This is just one in a boatload of tone-deaf, arrogant excuses to "tweak" election laws in the state. While the very laws Florida Republicans put in place made it extremely hard to vote, they now want voters to believe that they are puzzled by the confusion last week at the polls, and arrogantly claim they have no idea what could have possibly gone wrong.
This attempt to insult the intelligence of voter while taking away their rights has become symbolic in Florida in the wake of the election. The state is once again a laughingstock thanks to these lawmakers and Gov. Rick Scott. Luckily the fact that Florida botched another election and was the last to count the votes didn't matter. This time.
Now suddenly Scott and Secretary of State Ken Detzner are playing "election reform kabuki" pretending that last week's disaster had absolutely nothing to do with them. They actually cite things that contributed, like having less days to vote and long ballots with never ending Amendment language written in, as if these were never before imagined revelations.
Everyone foresaw this conclusion, including the Republicans who caused it, no matter what they claim. It was disaster by design. Worse, Democrats in Florida tried to do something about those very problems, in the form of Amendments to the new strict voting law (HB 1355) before it was passed, but every one was shot down by Republicans. Here are those Amendments proposed by the Democrats:
Amendment: A981135, April 19, 2011
Sponsor: Rep. Scott Randolph, D-Orlando
Proposal: Would have limited to 75 words the ballot summaries of proposed constitutional amendments—which took up several pages this year and are widely believed to have caused much of the chaos during the elections. The amendment would have also placed limits on Legislature-proposed amendments, eight of which were soundly rejected by voters on Election Day.
Excerpt: “The ballot must include a statement expressing the chief purpose of the proposed legislation, in clear and unambiguous language not exceeding 75 words in length, and a statement of the economic impact of the proposed legislation.”
Result: Failed in a party-line 78-37 vote, with top Republicans like HB 1355 sponsor Rep. Dennis Baxley, R-Ocala, and incoming House Speaker Will Weatherford, R-Wesley Chapel, voting against it.
Amendment: AA 536956, May 2, 2011
Sponsor: Sen. Arthenia Joyner, D-Tampa
Proposal: Would have mandated more early voting locations and allowed local supervisors to have early voting in more precincts. Sec. Ken Detzner now says that the lack of available early voting sites caused much of the chaos and long lines.
Excerpt: “In any general election in which a candidate for President of the United States appears on the ballot, the supervisor of elections shall designate at least one early voting site for every 40,000 registered voters within the county.”
Result: Amendment Failed.
Amedment: AA 910767, May 5, 2011
Sponsor: Rep. Richard Steinberg, D-Miami Beach
Proposal: Give local elections supervisors more flexibility to expand early voting if they felt it was necessary to prevent lines. This year, that power was held exclusively by Gov. Rick Scott, who chose not to use it despite pleas from top officials and lengthy lines that stretched for hours. In Miami-Dade, Broward and other counties, local supervisors wishing to expand early voting had to find a loophole in the law by allowing in-person absentee voting after the early voting period ended. In Miami-Dade County, this strategy led to even more long lines and chaos, with people shouting “Let us vote!”
Excerpt: “The supervisor of elections may expand early voting hours and locations during the early voting period if she or he determines that the current early voting hours and locations are not sufficient to provide electors an opportunity to vote early without unreasonable delays.”
Result: Amendment Failed
Amendment: AA 227265, May 5, 2011
Sponsor: Rep. Richard Steinberg, D-Miami Beach
Proposal: To ensure that early voting lines would not be prohibitively long, given the fact that HB 1355 cut the number of early voting days from 14 to 8. The amendment required county supervisors to have adequate staffing and locations for a smooth early voting process. Some top backers of HB 1355 have blamed local elections supervisors for the election day problems.
Excerpt: “County supervisors of elections shall provide sufficient staffing, equipment, and locations to limit early voting wait times to less than 25 minutes.”
Result: Amendment Failed.
So Rick Scott tries to avoid answering questions about HB 1355 which he all but signed under cover of darkness and refers them to Detzner while saying he "did the right thing," and Detzner claims election day was a success, among several other excuses, and many in Florida are left with the feeling that Republicans really have no interest in fixing the mess they made. Not really.
Luckily others are stepping up to try and salvage what's left of voting procedures in Florida:
Advocacy groups like Progress Florida, the Advancement Project and Florida New Majority Education Fund, League of Women Voters, the NAACP and AARP are pushing for real reforms.
Lawmakers and elected officials, both past and present, are proposing real solutions, like former Gov. Charlie Crist, Former Tamps Mayor and former Hillsborough Elections Supervisor Pam Iorio, and Democratic state Reps. Darryl Rouson and Dwight Dudley of St. Petersburg.
Let's hope we do get real reform. Florida voters have spoken and they will no longer put up with the sorry excuses from Rick Scott, Ken Detzner, and election supervisors like Mike Bennett, for his view that real Democracy means making it that much harder to vote.