They said it could never happen again. Well, don’t look now, but Florida is well on its way to stealing another election.
We all remember Florida 2000. A few months before the election, Florida’s secretary of state (Katherine Harris) purges the voter rolls of hundreds of thousands of “ineligible voters” — who happen to be mostly black and Hispanic (i.e., Democrats). The secretary of state’s boss (Jeb Bush) just happens to be the brother of the Republican presidential candidate. The number of voters purged is far greater than the 537-vote margin by which the Supreme Court claims that George W. Bush won the state. So Florida’s purge, not the nationwide popular vote, decides the next president of the United States.
Never happen again? It’s happening now. Five months before this November’s election, a Republican governor (Rick Scott) ordered his secretary of state (Ken Detzner) to purge the rolls of allegedly “ineligible voters” — who, again, just happen to be predominantly racial minorities (Democrats). In the immortal words of Yogi Berra, it’s “déjà vu, all over again.”
Scott sponsored Florida’s recently enacted voter suppression law, which undermined voting rights in several ways: cutting the early voting time in half; banning former felons who completed their sentences from voting, thereby reversing action taken by previous Republican Gov. Charlie Crist; placing onerous new restrictions on voter registration drives; and scrubbing non-citizens from voter rolls. Secretary of State Ken Browning resigned in February, refusing to carry out Scott’s plan. Scott named Detzner to take his place.
Detzner’s first target: 182,000 Floridians who are registered to vote but don’t have a driver’s license and are therefore assumed to be non-citizens. This week, the first 2,600 names on the list received a letter informing them: “You are not a United States citizen, however you are registered to vote.” Residents may either request a hearing with the supervisor of elections within 30 days to show proof of citizenship, or simply forfeit their right to vote.
Scott would have been more honest had he simply admitted that his goal was to disenfranchise as many Democrats as possible. The Miami Herald found that two-thirds of the letters were mailed to Miami-Dade, a heavily Democratic county that gave Barack Obama a 17 percentage point margin over John McCain in 2008. And 58 percent of letters were sent to Hispanic residents, even though Hispanics make up only 13 percent of the state’s registered voters.
Among those surprised to receive the letter was 91-year old Bill Internicola, a Brooklyn-born World War II vet who fought in the Battle of the Bulge and was awarded the Bronze Star. Internicola, a lifelong Democrat who registered to vote in Florida in 1991 and has been a frequent voter ever since, had one question for the elections supervisor: “Are you crazy?”
But here’s the problem. It’s not just Florida. The Sunshine State is just one of more than 20 states, led by Republican governors, where so-called “voter reform” laws — in reality, voter suppression laws — have been enacted within the last year. Based on model legislation provided by the Koch Brothers-funded American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC), they target seniors, students, the poor and racial minorities by restricting voting rights in several different ways. Many states, collectively accounting for 171 out of 270 electoral votes needed to win the presidency, now require an official government photo ID. Early voting is eliminated or curtailed. No more registering to vote on Election Day. Voting on the Sunday before the election, when black churches drive “souls to the polls,” no longer permitted.
Republicans justify attempts to suppress the vote by warning about massive voter fraud — of which there is simply zero evidence. A 2011 survey by the Brennan Center for Justice found voter fraud “extremely rare.” Washington state, for example, reported a fraud rate of 0.0009 percent; Ohio, only 0.00004 percent. You’re more likely to be struck by lightning.
Republicans also insist that everyone has a photo ID. Again, not true. The Brennan Center concluded that more than 21 million Americans don’t have government-approved photo ID. The NAACP estimates about 25 percent of African-Americans don’t have proper ID. And many can’t afford to get it.
Now, here’s the scary part: As reported by Think Progress, the Washington Post and Wall Street Journal have not published one single article on voter suppression laws enacted in state after state. The New York Times, only one. These laws pose the greatest threat to democracy of our lifetime, but the media would rather talk about Donald Trump.
(Bill Press is host of a nationally-syndicated radio show, the host of “Full Court Press” on Current TV and the author of a new book, “The Obama Hate Machine,” which is available in bookstores now. You can hear “The Bill Press Show” at his website: billpressshow.com. His email address is: firstname.lastname@example.org.)