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My View: Setting the vote straight

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  • | 4:00 a.m. June 23, 2011
  • Longboat Key
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There are some issues that have been so badly reported, where the bias is so entrenched and the media agenda so intertwined in news stories, that it is difficult to unravel things enough to make a cogent argument. Everyone’s mind appears already made up with insufficient information.

Such is the case with the early-voting limitations the Legislature instituted this past session. They were part of larger changes to elections laws to tighten voter registration requirements, change the rules on petition drives and make other improvements to combat fraud.

News stories have uniformly hammered the legislation, quoting at length unions, Democrats and the League of Women Voters in story lines that make it all too obvious the media view the changes as a racist power grab. The reporting has typically been along these lines:

“Florida Gov. Rick Scott could face a rebellion from local elections officials, as well as lawsuits over a controversial law that tightened restrictions on voter registration.” The Hill. (That would be Democratic local elections officials and lawsuits from liberals such as the ACLU. But that context is left out.)

“Critics assailed (Scott) for endorsing ‘voter suppression’ tactics aimed at making it tougher for President Barack Obama to capture Florida … ” The Miami Herald.

The Sarasota Herald-Tribune reported that half of black voters in Florida used early voting to cast their ballots in 2008, and the new law will make it harder for them. This is the “suppression.” The source for this? With a straight face, the story cited “an analysis of state elections records by the Florida Democratic Party.” Seriously, that is the level of objective reporting on this issue.

Space does not allow for the universe of distortions and one-sided examples. But the point is near-universal in the mainstream media and impossible to miss: The Republicans and Scott are trying to keep blacks and others from voting for Democrats.

So now to unwind the wild rhetoric and give some context:

First, we should view voting as sacred to democracy. Beyond the debate over whether it is a right or a privilege, it should be taken seriously and done by people who are informed about who and on what they are voting. We cannot create laws testing knowledge before voting, but we also have no responsibility to make it so easy as to completely devalue it.

Think of the Iraqis with purple fingers and so many others around the world risking death to cast a vote. But we are so spoiled that we cannot countenance the merest inconvenience, such as cutting the number of early voting days, without reams of whining.

The truth is that none of the changes in the new law will stop dedicated, informed voters from getting to the polls and casting their preference. We have become such a nation of molly-coddlers and enablers, that we forget the real value of voting.

Let’s go through the Democrat/ACLU/media triune of charges.

Charge: Cutting early voting from 15 days to eight days will hurt blacks because they use it most.

Context: Although the number of days has been cut, the total number of hours remains the same. What this means is that more opportunities are opened up for working people who may have been on the job when the early polls were open and now can cast early ballots before or after work more easily. Seems like a good thing.

Charge: Ending early voting on the Saturday before Election Day, rather than the Sunday, means churches cannot encourage members to vote Sunday from the morning pulpit and organize buses to get them there.

Context: There is no right to early voting, no right to Sunday voting and Christian preachers, at any rate, ought to be preaching the Gospel and not preaching partisan politics. This may affect churches in black communities more where there has been considerable political activism from the pulpit. But it affects everyone the same.

Charge: Not allowing address changes on the day of voting will hinder the poor and college students who tend to move more.

Context: Anyone with a new address can still cast a vote as a provisional ballot, which means that once the address checks out, the vote is counted. No one is denied anything. But it is a control on fraud.
Will the same media that are hyper-sensitive to race and partisanship notice that the U.S. Justice Department looking into this new law is the same Obama Justice Department that inexplicably dropped charges against two New Black Panthers for voter intimidation at a Philadelphia polling place despite a blatant YouTube video and overwhelming evidence?

I’ll be waiting for my news brethren to point out constantly how the president and Justice Department are politicizing Florida’s voting process. I just won’t hold my breath.

Interestingly, the Obama Justice Department has just weighed in on a four-year-old Arizona law saying that you have to prove you are an American citizen to vote — beyond just saying you are. Comports with common sense. But not to the Obama Justice Department, which has filed a brief opposing the law. It’s almost like they want illegals to vote.

Is there partisanship in the Florida bill? Well, duh. It was done by politicians. But is it the threat that opponents claim — a “return to Jim Crow tactics,” according to the more-and-more-partisan League of Women Voters? Not remotely.

Anyone can still vote on the Tuesday after the first Monday in November. Anyone can still vote for more than a week before that. And anyone can still mail in a ballot.

If that is too inconvenient, it is probably just as well you stay on the couch anyway.

Contact Rod Thomson at [email protected].



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