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Florida GOP's poll tax nostalgia

Pierre Tristam Florida Voices
Published:   |   Updated: May 7, 2013 at 06:35 PM

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Florida may be a deciding state in a presidential election yet again.

Many experts say the state's heavily Democratic ranks could tip the state Barack Obama's way — unless enough Democrats are discouraged from voting on Nov. 6.

But the race is close in Florida and it won't take big numbers to make a difference.

So the GOP-dominated Florida Legislature is going out of its way to make voting more of a privilege than a right.

It's giving the poll tax — a Florida invention dating back to 1889 — a retro makeover.

Most Old South methods of barring people from voting don't work well anymore. It now requires legalized chicanery to sway an election.

Florida has a tradition of doing just that. The state disenfranchises more than 800,000 former prisoners who have been convicted of a felony, for example.

A disproportionate number of felons are minorities who would support Democrats in elections. So denying swaths of minorities the right to vote is an easy way to ensure that a large bloc of Democratic leaners never vote.

And it's not as if former prison inmates can call on powerful politicians to speak up for them.

But like a well-laundered investment portfolio, voter suppression pays dividends only when it's diversified.

So the Legislature reduced the number of early voting days from 14 to eight, even though a fifth of all ballots were cast early in the 2010 election.

It also turned voting registration into an obstacle course designed to keep third-party registration organizations like the League of Women Voters, which routinely registers more Democrats than Republicans, from doing their job.

For a while, the new restrictions worked. Those organizations quit registering because the threat of punishing fines was too high.

But a federal judge threw out the constraints in August, calling them harsh and impractical.

Finally the Legislature came up with its strangest voter-suppression scheme yet. It turned the November ballot into a half-hour reading chore worthy of the dullest FCAT test.

The ballot you'll see on Nov. 6 is the longest in history. It'll stretch to four pages, much of it in the sort of fine print you see at the bottom of used-car sales contracts. That's because the Legislature decided to include the full wording of every one of the 11 proposed constitutional amendments it's throwing at voters.

Florida law requires the amendments to be summarized "in clear and unambiguous language," and pass the Florida Supreme Court's review under that standard.

Several of them did not. The Supreme Court called them deceiving.

So the legislators simply exempted themselves from the law and forced supervisors of elections to publish all 11 amendments in full. It'll almost certainly lengthen lines on Election Day and possibly discourage some impatient voters, again achieving what lawmakers have been after all along: a lower voter turnout.

This is not to excuse lazy voters. The Bureau of Labor Statistics says that a voter spends an average of 43 minutes casting his or her ballot in the presidential election every four years.

But Florida's state government seems intent on making the process less convenient.

There's an easy way around the Legislature's schemes. You can vote by absentee ballot. You can vote early starting Oct. 27. And the best thing you can do is learn about those 11 amendments ahead of time and decide how you're going to vote on each of them.

You'll discover that they're all brazen attempts to undermine local government, channel public money to religious schools, or supposedly keep Obamacare from being enforced here, though that amendment itself would not be enforceable.

You should vote against all 11 amendments. It'll take 30 seconds.

And the only thing you'll be suppressing is the Legislature's mania for bad and ideological legislation.

Pierre Tristam is editor and publisher of, a nonprofit news service based in Palm Coast.

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