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Vote suppression. HB1355. And Florida's latest election debacle

Edgar Oliva waited to vote at Shenandoah Elementary School and fretted.

The line was too long. The clock was ticking. He had to get to work across town.

Twice before, during in-person early voting, he tried to vote but he had to leave because lines were even longer. Tuesday was his third try at voting in between one of his two jobs, cleaning carpets in Doral and working at an airport hotel.

About 4 p.m. on Election Day, he gave up.

“I had the intention of voting but there were always a lot of people,” Oliva, a native of Guatemala, told a Miami Herald reporter as he left the scene.

Oliva had so much company on Tuesday.

Voter after voter who spoke to Herald reporters on Election Day said the longer early voting lines dissuaded them from casting early ballots in person. And then the unexpected long lines on Election Day just compounded the sense of frustration in some places. Many dropped out of line.

The experience played out across the state. Data show the 71.13 percent turnout percentage in 2012 fell well short of the rates in 2008 (75 percent) and 2004 (74 percent).

In 38 of 67 counties, fewer people cast a ballot for president this time than in 2008.

Only 80,351 more people voted now than in 2008 even though the voter rolls increased by 686,812, according to the latest numbers from the state’s elections division. The vote totals will change slightly as provisional ballots are counted.

Relatively speaking, Florida in 2012 moved backward when it came to voting.

If the statistics and the experience of voters like Oliva are not evidence of voter suppression, then we’ll need to change the definition of “suppressant” in Webster’s dictionary: “an agent (as a drug) that tends to suppress or reduce in intensity rather than eliminate something (as appetite).”

Tuesday showed the appetite was there.

But the government wasn’t.

The chief suppressant: HB1355, signed into law by Gov. Rick Scott in 2011.

The law shortened early voting periods. And it created a longer ballot by giving lawmakers the ability to print the entire text of proposed constitutional amendments because the courts kept rejecting the Legislature’s ballot summaries as misleading.

Early voting was shortened to prevent a repeat of 2008, when Barack Obama won Florida, largely on the strength of early voting. So Republicans cut early voting days from 14 to eight. And they loaded amendments on the ballot, which stretched for at least 10 pages in Miami-Dade.

The other voter suppressant was local: a lack of enough voting booths and ballot scanners in some precincts. That’s controlled by each county’s supervisor of elections.

Bottom line: there was less time to vote a longer ballot without adequate equipment this election.

More here