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Dan Gelber: Time for a Constitutional Amendment to Ensure Voter Access

| November 13, 2012

The attempt at suppression failed. (Natures Paparazzi)

By Dan Gelber

Why were the lines so obscenely long?

Because the state legislature wanted them long, and there was little anyone could do to stop them.

This was not an accident or poor planning. Hoping to dissuade Democratic-leaning voters from being counted, the legislature intentionally reduced early voting periods and placed on the ballot exceedingly long and multi-part amendments. This witches brew of less time to vote and a longer ballot to review produced a voting system that failed its primary function, namely, to provide citizens with a meaningful opportunity to cast their vote.

Under current law there was little Florida’s citizens could do to protect themselves from this arrogant overreaching by their legislature.

That is why I believe our citizens need to take the extraordinary step of enshrining in our state constitution an amendment that guarantees every citizen meaningful voter access.

Yes, it’s very sad that the citizens of our state need their rights protected from their own government. But if there is anything this last election has taught us, it’s that our right to vote is clearly imperiled in Florida.

I propose adding a new section to Article VI of the state constitution, which would include language guaranteeing to every Floridian the right to meaningful voter access and opportunity. A provision that would ensure — notwithstanding the excesses of our own elected officials — that we have sufficient personnel, equipment and locations and that elections are convenient and orderly.

florida voices columnists flaglerlive

If citizens adopt it, this provision would give Florida courts jurisdiction to make sure the legislature and county election supervisors provide an orderly voting process. Citizens would have a remedy, and judges would be empowered to order counties or state officials to provide adequate voting booths, expand early voting periods and make sure people don’t have to endure long lines to vote.

In Florida this change is necessary. Gov. Rick Scott’s recent announcement that he intends to look into what happened in the last election is ironic because he needs to look no further than the mirror. Everything that happened on election day – shorter voting periods, longer ballots, limited early-voting sites and the horrendous lines – was Gov. Scott’s (and the Republican Legislature’s) doing. One proponent of the election bill proudly declared during debate, “I don’t have a problem making it harder to vote.”

How about this as a recommendation. Governor: Don’t suppress the vote!

But we cannot trust that will happen. For more than a decade, Republican legislators and governors have repeatedly manipulated voting procedures here to gain advantages at the polls.


Courts declared some of their misguided efforts – like artificially making it harder to register voters — unconstitutional and contrary to federal law. But much of what they have done – like purposely creating long waiting periods in early voting because democratic- leaning voters tend to early vote – remained outside the protection of federal courts because only a few of Florida’s counties stand under the umbrella of the federal Voting Rights Act.

So while I applaud organizations and individuals who recommend the state move forward with election reforms, Florida will stillremain at the mercy of our legislature. Citizens on line at polls last week know to expect little mercy from there.

So while there are already many well intended groups putting together proposed reforms and blue-ribbon recommendations, let’s not pretend this happened because the legislature or Gov. Scott didn’t have enough proposals on how to run an election.

A constitutional right to meaningful voter access will change this dynamic and shift the power to citizens. I recognize there’s already too much in Florida’s Constitution lacking the weight of true constitutional principles. But few rights are as essential as voting and none is as fundamental to a working democracy.

Dan Gelber was a State Senator and former House Democratic Leader from Miami.

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11 Responses for “Dan Gelber: Time for a Constitutional Amendment to Ensure Voter Access”

  1. fred says:

    I guess there were no republicans standing in the lines.

  2. confidential says:

    Just one word to describe it..Shame!

  3. BW says:

    Here’s some interesting questions, why would our very own Democrat Supervisor of Elections not use the City Hall of Flagler Beach for early voting thereby reducing local locations to only 2? Interestingly enough this drove a lot of traffic to her own office where she handed out her own personal campaign solicitation material to voters in line.

    I think there are motivations by some to put it to voters, but it obviously ain’t always the Republicans.

    • kmedley says:

      BW -

      In her own words, while addressing the final precinct consolidations and changes, Weeks said the numbers did not support the opening of the Early Voting site in Flagler Beach. She was then pressed by a Beverly Beach Town Council member and was asked to use the Town’s facility as an Early Voting site. She denied this, again citing “the numbers” and that since the Town of Beverly Beach was not a city, the location could not be used. Weeks needs to review the statutes; but, don’t hold your breath. Theoretically, she could have opened 4 Early Voting sites and chose not to. As far as the distribution of her campaign materials to voters within the 100 ft. “no solicitation zone”; those who witnessed it should file a report with the Division of Elections and Ethics Commission.

  4. "My Daily Rant" says:

    Why dont we have voting year round,or better yet lets say you can have someone vote for you.You have a full year between voting in that year set up a ride with a neighbor or family member,get your picture I.D.

  5. Stevie says:

    I see no reason for an amendment. The local authorities should be petitioned to do a better job of providing more polling places. I voted absentee ballot. I had plenty of time, found no problem deciding on the amendments, and was able to check to see if my vote was counted. How much more access can you get than that.

    Democrats are even local issues to fog up the national political scene now that Benghazi is getting hot. No big surprise.

  6. Karma says:

    What a joke this story is. Never in my life has it been easier to vote. It took two minutes online with the Supervisor of Election website for both my wife and I, and two days later it was in my mailbox. This gave us ample time to read the ballot and make informed decisions on how to vote. This all happened 1 week prior to election day. I guess only Republicans do that sort of thing according to your story.
    I realize many voters are bused in an told how to vote. I would love to know how many people only filled out the first two races(President and Senator)compared to the whole ballot. Maybe it’s time for Constitutional Amendment that requires voters to be tested. Maybe something as simple as what are the three branches of government? YOU ARE VOTING FOR THEM
    No one is being denied access from the polling stations, people are just making poor time decisions.Every library has internet access and most homes do also. I did hear that many of the mail in ballots where thrown out because they where not signed. Is this Rick Scott’s fault to?

  7. I knew Dan Gelber in 1986 when I ran for Dade County Commission and know he is a very fair person. I totally agree with his assessments of the early voting. My husband and I always voted at Flagler Beach City Hall on Saturdays after enjoying a breakfast at one of the lovely beachside restaurants and buying delightful vegees and fruits at the Farmers Market.
    There was NO reason to cut out Flagler Beach City Hall other than selfishness. Amen

  8. Becky Covington says:

    We surely need voting reform. Our politicians won’t touch it. ‘Access’ is too valuable a tool for parties to use JUST before an election to demonize the opposing party.
    1. NO more amendments during Presidential elections. Those length & number of amendments were ridiculous.
    2.We need uniform voting laws across the nation.
    3. This should be number 1. We need and must demand fingerprint scan voting. With a paper trail.
    4. We need a citizens registry /access to at each polling place. A quick check for citizenship and registration, you get to vote.
    5. ID. We are the only industrialized nation that does not require ID. Our citizens are not so ignorant that they can’t get one. Perhaps Eric Holder and Rev. Al could have mobilized the church leaders they went to speak to and asked them to pull together all their ‘get out the vote’ infrastructure to ‘get out the ID’ . And help ‘unchain’ these poor souls and let them join the 21st century like the rest of us. I’m doubtful they would, because again, it’s too useful a tool to demonize the opposing party.

    BTW. The number of days that were available, plus being able to vote absentee makes the problems had by these people in the story totally avoidable. I really don’t have any sympathy for them.

  9. rthomp11 says:

    No sympathy here either. I think it’s plain laziness on the voters part if they wait until voting day thinking if they just show up to vote they are doing their part without doing any research to find out what’s actually on the ballot and understanding it. I always get the sample ballot from the supervisor of elections website, but it’s sent to my in the mail too. I look up all the issues and the candidates. Then I make my decision and take that with me when I go vote. It takes me maybe 2-3 minutes to fill in all the bubbles. It is my privilege and my right as an American citizen to show my ID and to vote and I do it every chance I get. People just need to stop being so lazy! Do some homework and make your own decisions!

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