Voting conditions were awful in a wide variety of states this year, but arguably none was as bad as Florida. The state’s Republican governor, Rick Scott, and Republican legislature imposed new restrictions intended to make voting more difficult – narrowing the early-voting window, for example – and the result included indefensibly long voting lines.
Yesterday, Scott’s predecessor, Republican-turned-independent-turned-Democrat Charlie Crist testified before the Senate Judiciary Committee to condemn – and at times, even mock – Florida’s recent fiasco.
[Crist] called for a possible federal law to prevent a repeat of what happened in Florida in November. Crist said the law Scott signed was designed to give Republicans a “partisan” edge.
Crist pointed out that, when he was governor, he tried to give more former felons the right to vote and that he also issued an executive order in 2008 that kept the polls open longer for early in-person voting, which is heavily used by Democrats, independents and minorities, a Miami Herald analysis showed.
Factoring in Crist’s executive order, Florida in 2008 had a cumulative 120 hours of early voting over 14 days. Four years later, Scott insisted that the number of early voting hours be held at 96 over eight days.
Crist, who may very well be running against the Florida governor in 2014, told senators, “As Gov. Scott refused to take action to ease the lines, in some cases, those lines extended to six and seven hours…. The outcome of these decisions was quite obvious. Florida, which four years earlier was a model for efficiency, became once again a late-night TV joke.”
For context, it’s worth noting that there have been a series of allegations, including some levied by the former chairman of the Florida Republican Party, that GOP policymakers imposed voting restrictions deliberately in the hopes of blocking Democratic voters’ access to the ballot box.
As for the governor, while Crist going on the offensive yesterday, Rick Scott was clearly on the defensive.
Immediately after Election Day, the far-right governor defended his election-related actions, insisting, “The right thing happened…. We did the right thing.”
Yesterday, Scott sang a very different tune, telling CNN the state may need to improve its voting process. “We’ve got to go back and look at the number of days of early voting we have,” the governor conceded. He added that he’s also open to preventing unnecessarily long ballots, and giving “our supervisors more flexibility on the size of our polling locations.”
It’s hard to gauge Scott’s sincerity, and no one knows whether and to what extent the governor will consider election reforms in advance of 2014. That said, the fact that he’s gone from “we did the right thing” to “we’ve got to go back and look” is probably evidence of progress.
As of the Judiciary Committee hearing, Sen. Chuck Grassley (R) of Iowa, pushed back against Democratic arguments about unnecessary disenfranchisement. “Fraud does exist. It’s a fact of life. And it will get worse if the only response is denial,” Grassley said.
Given reality, we can add this to the list of issues about which Grassley is confused.