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Nancy Smith

Courts Should Toss Out All Early Voting

August 19, 2012 - 6:00pm

Who am I to tell three federal judges they're crazier than a soup sandwich? But that was my inclination Thursday when a U.S. District Court ruled Florida's reduction in early voting days negatively impacts minority voters.

The upshot is that Florida must reinstate those days in the five Florida counties covered by federal voting laws Collier, Hardee, Hendry, Hillsborough and Monroe. These counties, unlike the others in the state, are covered by Section 5 of the Voting Rights Act of 1965.

Maybe I just don't get it.

Twelve years ago anybody in Florida with a voting card -- minorities, WASPs, felons, non-English speakers -- they all had early voting if they wanted it. It's called the absentee ballot. If they didn't ask to vote absentee, they had one day to cast their ballot. It fell on a Tuesday.

Do you remember that? When we only had Voting Day? Now we've got a voting season, a whole mess of days we submit to costly court fightsand partisan showmanship.

Yet along comes a group called Project Vote, full of moral outrage because in 2011 the state passed a law that cut early voting days back from 12 to eight.

Michael Slater, executive director of Project Vote, says the new Florida law"is part of a coordinated and undemocratic effort by some politicians to erect barriers to the ballot box."

Really? Barriers to the ballot box?

No matter what your social circumstance, you can't find one day out of eight that works for you? There's no time in that vast window of days to pick yourself up out of your armchair and get to the polling place before or after work?

If I were a minority, I would feel mighty insulted. I would think Slater and Project Vote and progressives of their ilk are trying to make me look stupid and incapable of deciding for myself how and whether to vote -- and even who to vote for. Why, I would wonder, do they think if I can't vote at my church on a Sunday morning, I'll be turned off participating in the election process?

I admit, I have since 2001 in Florida when early voting began been against it. I've written about it before. It is unnecessary, costly and indulgent.

Early voting encourages itchy trigger fingers and lack of preparation in voters.

I would change my opinion in a heartbeat if early voting did the thing it was invented to do, the thing legislators originally had predicted send folks flocking to the polls. It does not.

While it's true, more people are voting early year after year, it doesn't mean more people overall are voting. Quite the opposite. Despite the vast voting window in 2002, during the pilot project, for example, participation all over the state was virtually unchanged. Only 55 percent of registered voters cast ballots statewide, one of the lowest percentages in recent elections.

The Division of Elections displays online a record of voter turnout in Florida since 1954.See for yourself. Except in 2008 when Barack Obama was elected, voter turnout generally was stronger in the years before early voting catered to Floridians need for convenience.

The idea that shaving a few days off early voting season could deprive a single Florida voter, regardless of circumstance, of his opportunity to vote probably has the Founding Fathers turning in their graves.

Reach Nancy Smith at nsmith@sunshinestatenews.com or at (850) 727-0859.

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