Jan 24, 2013 —

The ongoing challenge of America is to ensure that democracy works for all.  Here in Florida, we know that challenge better than most.  We have been ground zero for elections disasters, both because of extraordinary circumstances, and because of the direct actions of some state politicians.

Under the pressure and scrutiny of state and national politics, Florida all too often has been poster child for non-effective electoral practices, often at the cost of civil rights. The past has only reinforced the notion that state policies are designed to discourage full participation. We only need to be reminded of recent history, when HB 1355 and subsequent resource intensive pursuits of hysteric voter purges made it unfairly harder to vote.

Even if we choose to forget these past transgressions against the democratic process, the truth is that simple rhetorical fixes and vague statements will not restore statewide or national faith in our electoral process. The current rhetoric from the Governor Rick Scott doesn’t fully protect all Floridians and doesn’t go nearly far enough to bring Florida forward. His suggestions are woefully inadequate to address the depth of our electoral issues and the reality of serious lack of public confidence in our voting system.

So instead of leaving the rules of governance to an increasingly political and polarized legislative and executive office, the Right to Vote must become a fundamental right, permanently enshrined in the fabric of our state. It must be protected against the vagaries of political influence and money and enforced by an authority higher than any one party or politician. The legislature should also move to fundamentally shift policy from making voting a confusing process to one that allows people to more simply and straightforwardly meet their civic responsibility. At the end of the day, the rules should be consistent and easy to understand. The process should be accessible and flexible.

To answer the call and fulfill the great promise of this nation, the right to vote must be enshrined into Florida law and into our state constitution. Proposals for both should:

  • Guarantee A Fundamental Right to Vote: Every citizen over 18 years of age in Florida has an explicit, fundamental right to vote and that infringement of that right should be subject to strict scrutiny. Any restriction on voting rights, or any change in voting practices or procedures that would diminish access to the ballot, would have to be narrowly tailored to serve a compelling government interest, with judicial review including a private right of action.
    • Provide Equal Protection Under the Law – Legislation would establish equal protection standards and remedies for violations of equal protection of the right to vote; prohibiting any form of discrimination in voting by public or private parties; establishing that any differential treatment in voting is subject to strict scrutiny; establishing judicial remedies for discrimination in voting, with a private right of action; and establishing a diverse citizens’ advisory board to review any changes in voting procedures in Florida.
    • Criminalize Deceptive & Discriminatory Practices – Intimidation and suppression of the vote by private and public parties, including state entities should be strictly prohibited. So should deceptive practices designed to intimidate voters or manipulate the electorate, with a private right of action. Intentional, negligent, discriminatory or wide-scale efforts to limit voting, including intimidating and deceptive practices by government entities, would also be punishable by time in prison.
      • Pundits will say that such an effort is unimaginable. However, in a state like Florida, with all of our baggage and history, it’s exactly what we have to do. Voters, especially those who stood for hours to cast their ballots last November, have proven that they are more than willing to turn popular political wisdom on its head. They demand and deserve a higher standard.

        All the good people of this state know that we crossed a line last year that we should never approach again. We can and will do much better. Patriotism demands that that we fix the structural ways that prohibit people from carrying out one of the most basic functions of citizenship.  We owe it to not only past and future generations but also to the idea of America, to succeed.