Starting with the election of Jeb Bush in 1998, Florida became the laboratory for conservative voter suppression efforts. Just as complete Republican domination of state government has allowed think tanks and other conservative advocacy groups to descend upon Florida to push an ideological agenda.
Florida is probably the most important state in Presidential elections in the 21st Century much as Ohio was at the turn of the last century. Combine this with the impotence of the Democratic opposition at the state level since the turn of the century and you have an easy place to experiment with voter suppression.
Unlike Ohio and Wisconsin, states with progressive traditions and well organized labor unions, Florida’s mishmash of progressive groups and a dysfunctional Democratic apparatus are less equipped to fight heinous power grabs by Republican elected officials. Thus every attempt at “electoral reform” since the stolen 2000 Presidential Election has resulted in a greater advantage for the GOP, and a more difficult voting process for minorities, young people, and Democratic oriented seniors who reside in the state most of the year.
With conservative think tanks and pundits constantly waging a campaign of fear and demagoguery related to illegal allies or felons voting, race based scrutiny of voting process is inevitable especially in the nation’s ultimate swing. The fact that Florida has higher than the national average percentages of both Hispanics and Blacks, has allowed the GOP to push voter disenfranchisement in a big way.
Every effort has been made by the Republicans to change the rules in Florida to benefit themselves. After the outright theft of the 2000 Presidential Election, efforts to change voting machines, eliminate runoff elections, limit ballot access to certain candidates and dissuade party switchers from running for office have all benefited the GOP. The irony of this is that those very same items traditionally benefited conservatives and the GOP when they were out of power and seeking to build a statewide majority.
But where the conservatives have really cleaned up in Florida is in the arena of voter suppression and intimidation. By culling voter lists using decidedly political vendors, passing repressive ID laws, making it more difficult to get an absentee ballot, and forcing college students to vote in their home areas, Florida’s GOP is both stifling democracy and making it less and less likely they will be ever be turned out of power.
While Democratic legislators and left leaning advocacy groups have raised the issues of voter suppression, an organized self sustaining statewide effort has not been funded or properly staffed. As the GOP hegemony in Florida continues, the voter’s laws became less and less democratic and more repressive. It is important that going forward a permanent effort is made utilizing liberal advocacy and interest groups as well as national donors to emulate Wisconsin’s effort to fight back.