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Wednesday, May 11, 2011

Cut education, stick it to the middle class and steal elections, snippets from the Republican playbook

From the Orlando Sentinel

by Scott Maxwell

I've never been a big fan of early voting.

I keep waiting for some candidate to get arrested for something wild or obscene two days before an election. Suddenly, I think, there will be a bunch of people who want their votes back.

But over the years, politicians helped convinced me that convenient voting is what democracy is all about.

They were politicians such as former Gov. Jeb Bush.

"I think it`s great," Jeb proclaimed on national television back in 2004. "It's another reform we added that, you know, has helped provide access to the polls and provide a convenience. And we`re going to have a high voter turnout here, and I think that's wonderful."

And so early voting thrived — until last week anyway, when modern-day Republicans decided they'd had quite enough.

The problem, you see, was that early voting tended to favor Democrats — often working people who wanted to vote on a weekend. Also because of the simple fact that Florida has more Democrats than Republicans.

And that simply wouldn't do.

So GOP legislators decided to attack early voting. And voter registration. Any part of democracy that didn't benefit their party.

They shortened early voting from 14 days down to eight. They made it harder for people who have moved in the past year or changed their names to cast ballots on Election Day. And they successfully put groups that register new voters, like the League of Women Voters, out of business.

Even Republican elections supervisors were puzzled by the attack. "I'm not sure the system was, in any fashion, broken," said Seminole's Michael Ertel.

It wasn't.

But to concoct a reason, Republicans came up with two bizarre excuses.

First, they claimed early voting led to fraud — even though they couldn't actually offer proof.

"No one could give me an example of all this fraud they speak about," said Sen. Mike Fasano, one of only two Republicans who voted against this sham bill.

Then they claimed voting was … wait for it … too easy. "I wouldn't mind making it harder to vote," said Sen. Mike Bennett, R-Bradenton. "It should not be easy."

That statement alone is galling enough.

But here's the part of the story you haven't read anywhere else — the part that proves all these supposed concerns were bogus:

They didn't target all early voting — only the parts that helped Democrats.

Republicans did nothing to change the rules surrounding absentee voting.

Even though absentee voting is infinitely easier. (Voters needn't leave their house, prove they are absent or even request their own ballots.)

Even though absentee voting lasts much longer than early voting. (Forget eight days. Absentee voters can start casting ballots up to a month in advance.)

And even though absentee voting is more susceptible to fraud. (Absentee voters needn't offer any in-person proof that they cast their own ballot.)

"There is more opportunity for front-end fraud," said Ertel.

"Absolutely," said Fasano.

Keep in mind: Neither Republican argues that absentee voting has rampant fraud either — just that it's more susceptible than regular early voting.

So why not target absentee voting?

Because it benefits Republicans — a lot.

Absentee votes were credited with delivering George W. Bush his razor-thin victory in 2000. Ever since, GOP candidates have worked the tactic with great success.

In fact, absentee voters gave Republican Rick Scott his victory over Democrat Alex Sink last year.

In counties like Seminole, Scott and Sink ran neck-and-neck in traditional early voting. But Scott received 50 percent more votes among absentee ballots.

Republicans weren't going to derail that gravy train.

So they concocted bogus claims about fraud and then started cracking down … but only on certain kinds of voters.

Fasano said he was ashamed by his own party's actions.

"I've always bragged about how Florida was very accessible for people to register and vote," he said. "And now we've taken this away from them? If anything, we should be expanding it."

If Rick Scott wanted to truly prove that he's an independent, Fasano said, he'd do the right thing and veto this bad bill.

Because there was fraud in all of this mess. But it wasn't at the polls.

The frauds were the politicians like Bennett, who selectively applied his warped ideas about making voting more difficult. And leaders like Dean Cannon and Mike Haridopolos, who constantly thump their chests about respecting our democracy, even as they led the charge to undermine it.

Fasano and Sen. Paula Dockery were the only Republicans with the courage to vote against this bogus bill.

I understand hard-ball politics. I know strategy and gamesmanship.

But voting and democracy isn't a game. And those who treat it as such have no business in public office. or 407-420-6141,0,5994616,full.column

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