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Voter suppression runs rampant in Florida

By Dave Schneider

Tallahassee, FL – Florida is once again making election headlines as voters struggle to cast their ballots. From Pensacola to Miami and everywhere in between, Floridians have reported prohibitively long lines at their early voting locations. A number of irregularities have many voters concerned that their ballots may not be counted.

At the root of these long lines is the voter suppression laws passed by Florida Governor Rick Scott and the Republican legislature earlier in the year. In 2008, Florida voters had 14 days to cast an early ballot, but Scott’s voter suppression laws reduced early voting to only eight days. This substantial six-day reduction was not accompanied by an increase in poll staff or resources to meet the increased demand.

Eric Brown, a sophomore at University of Florida and a member of Students for a Democratic Society, traveled home to Fort Lauderdale to cast his ballot on Nov. 3 with his father. Brown reported that there were nearly 200 people waiting in line to vote early when he arrived at 4:00 p.m. “They [Supervisor of Elections Office] had to move us into an auditorium and give us numbers for our place in line,” said Brown. “It took us about an hour and 40 minutes to actually vote.”

When asked about the effects of long lines, Brown said, “I think it discourages people from voting, who see a long line and think, ‘I’ll wait until election day.’”

Discouraging voters was an intentional component of Gov. Scott’s voter suppression laws, which were designed to disenfranchise African-Americans, Latinos, students and working people in Florida. Among the early voting days cut was the Sunday before Election Day, which has historically seen high turnout by African-American churches as a part of their Souls to the Polls drive.

“Cutting Sunday from early voting was designed to target churches that end their services around noon and go to the polls together,” said Brown. “It was designed to keep African-American churchgoers from voting.”

Early voting has also allowed workers, who may have difficulty getting enough time off of work to vote on a Tuesday, to cast their ballots at their convenience. Jose Soto, Co-president of the Graduate Assistants United at University of Florida, said, “The Republican voter suppression laws were deliberately designed to disenfranchise workers. We’re seeing how discouraging these long lines are for people who work nine to five and might not be able to take off work on Election Day.”

Besides reducing the number of days that voters could cast their ballots early, the Republicans also passed the ‘Voter ID’ law. These new requirements demand that voters produce a photo identification card before receiving their ballot. Scott’s law was designed to disenfranchise working class voters who may not have a photo ID and further incite racist suspicion towards African Americans, Latinos and other oppressed nationalities.

Activists across Florida have worked tirelessly to expose and defeat these racist laws, which blatantly attack the democratic rights of oppressed people. Dream Defenders, an African-American and Latino youth organization, led rallies and held discussion panels on the effects of voter suppression and how youth can defend their democratic rights from attacks.

Michael Sampson, an organizer with Dream Defenders, said, “Voter suppression is a tactic by radical right wing to suppress the rise of Black and brown people. It’s designed to take away the most fundamental democratic right born through the struggle.”

Voter suppression laws were not the only anti-democratic attacks experienced by Floridians last week. In Pensacola, voters reported more than a dozen cars and trucks with Texas license plates and conservative bumper stickers parked all day at the Lucia M. Tryon Branch Library, the main early voting location in Pensacola.

James Lingley, the Vice-president of the District 3 Florida State Council of Machinists, said that these out-of-state vehicles made it more difficult for voters to find parking and cast their ballots.

“Any political party bringing up people from out of state to take up space is trying to suppress the vote,” said Lingley. “It will go on all day tomorrow, and it’s not just here. It’s in Ohio, Pennsylvania and Wisconsin, too.”

The right-wing state lawmakers understand that working people overwhelmingly oppose their racist, anti-women, homophobic and anti-union agenda. They also understand that without Florida’s 29 electoral votes, Romney has no chance of winning the presidency. In order to grab onto power and deliver an electoral victory for republican candidate Mitt Romney, they have resorted to legal and extra-legal methods of suppressing voters.

After the U.S. Supreme Court disenfranchised hundreds of Florida voters in order to ensure victory for George W. Bush in the 2000 election, all eyes are on Florida for Election Day.

Speaking about the role of activist groups like Dream Defenders in the struggle against voter suppression, Michael Sampson said that activists need to broaden and deepen the struggle long past Election Day: “Our obligation is to organize, to fight back against these attacks and to win freedom for our communities.”

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