Working ballot by ballot, county by county, the Republican Party is attempting to alter voting laws in the biggest and most important swing states in the country in hopes of carving out a sweeping electoral advantage for years to come.In Florida on Monday, for instance, the secretary of state imposed new restrictions requiring completed absentee ballots to be returned solely to local supervisors' offices. This raised the eyebrows of a number of local election supervisors, including:
Changes already on the books or in bills before state legislatures would make voting harder, create longer lines, and threaten to disenfranchise millions of voters from Ohio to Florida, Pennsylvania to Wisconsin, Georgia to Arizona and Texas.
"The potential effect on voters is that it reduces opportunities for them to return their ballots," said Pinellas County Supervisor of Elections Deborah Clark, adding she was not consulted by the state. "This is not promoting ballot accessibility. I'm very worried about this. I'm just stunned."In 2012, 250,000 voters cast absentee ballots in Pinellas county, more than in any other Florida county and more than 10 percent of the statewide total for absentees. Some 105,000 of those ballots, 42 percent, were dropped off at 14 branch locations chosen by Clark. Those are barred under the new rules.
Detzner's order could have its biggest impact in Pinellas, where Clark promotes voting absentee and is planning for the upcoming special election [in March] in Congressional District 13 to replace the late Rep. C.W. Bill Young.
The Brennan Center for Justice, which closely follows changes and attempted changes in voting laws, released a list earlier this month of what's been happening in the year since the 2012 presidential election. Among the findings:
• At least 90 restrictive bills have been introduced in 33 states.
• 18 of those bills are still pending in seven states.
• Eight states have already passed nine restrictive bills this session.
But there's a flip side. Brennan also found that at least 234 bills to expand access to voting have been introduced in the past year in 45 states. Ten states have passed 13 such bills and 78 bills are still pending in nine states.
The Presidential Commission on Election Administration set up by President Obama last March as a consequence of the long queues and other obstacles to voting last year is charged with improving the voting experience to establish best practices for states and localities holding elections. The commission began holding hearings in September and is supposed to present its report later this year. But its mandate is far too narrow. As Common Cause stated in a letter to the commission:
“The problems we saw on Election Day presented as long lines, inadequate poll worker trainings, and too few options to cast a ballot. But it is what is underneath these problems that should be the focus of our reform. The root cause of the problems we saw were antiquated voter registration systems, under-resourced election offices, and restrictive voting laws and deceptive practices targeted at minimizing participation by specific populations.”Depending on a bipartisan commission to resolve issues that are, in great part, partisan in nature is a non-starter.