Still another chilling moment for democracy in Florida

In response to vote suppression measures filed by the Trump re-election campaign, state Republican parties and the national GOP, an attorney who represented the Bush-Cheney campaign during the 2000 Florida recount, delivered a candid and damning statement: “You’re seeing a broad-based, generalized strategy to suppress the vote by the Republican Party,” attorney Barry Richards declared.

If the American voter ever doubted the calculated and malicious efforts to thwart the democratic process by the modern far-right embodiment of the GOP, you may now lay those doubts to rest.

And, if that isn’t enough, just look at a recent statement by a sitting Republican senator.

“Democracy isn’t the objective; liberty, peace, and prosperity are. We want the human condition to flourish. Rank democracy can thwart that,” tweeted Sen. Mike Lee (R-Ut).

This reporter is certain that the PR spin on such a statement will be nuanced, and there will be overtures of patriotism, including this year’s campaign Trump platform of Law and Order.

But one cannot deny its impact, given the recent exploitation of legal loopholes, the politically motivated weaponization of the courts, and the use of a conservative judiciary to justify acts violating our civil liberties, i.e. casting a ballot in a free and fair election.

Turning our attention to the courts, the U.S. District Court for the Northern District of Florida, where we have previously seen calamitous voting issues, a federal judge denied a motion to extend voter registration in the state despite a computer meltdown on the final day of registration—preventing thousands of potential voters from taking part in the presidential election.

Chief District Judge Mark E. Waller delivered his 29-page ruling Friday morning, Oct 9, saying his decision was “an incredibly close call” adding that the “states interest in preventing chaos in it’s already precarious—and perennially chaotic—election outweighs the substantial burden imposed on the right to vote.”

Despite his ruling against voter advocacy groups, Waller shared in their frustration by inserting pointed criticism of the state.

“In so ruling, this Court notes that every man who has stepped foot on the Moon launched from the Kennedy Space Center, in Florida. Yet, Florida has failed to figure out how to run an election properly—a task simpler than rocket science,” wrote Waller.

In response to the computer crash on the last day of voter registration, Oct 6, Florida’s Secretary of State Laurel Lee reopened registrations for seven hours Tuesday, Oct. 7 after discussions with Gov. Ron DeSantis, a Republican, providing those who didn’t get a chance to register with another chance to do so.

But Walker said it was “too little, too late.”

“With the public sounding the alarm, the Secretary of State decided to implement a half measure,” Walker wrote. “She hastily and briefly extended the registration period and ordered Florida’s supervisors of election to accept applications submitted by the Secretary’s new ‘book closing’ deadline.”

Walker highlighted one flaw in the Sec. of State’s quick fix: She did not notify the public until after noon on the date of the new deadline.

“This left less than seven hours for potential voters to somehow become aware of the news and ensure that they properly submitted their voter registration applications, all while also participating in their normal workday, school, family, and caregiving responsibilities,” wrote Walker.

Historically the last day for voter registration is the busiest, as thousands scramble to register or update their registration to ensure their votes will count.

In Florida’s case, over 1.1 million per hour by the state’s voters overloaded the system. During the height of the system slowdown, about 49.000 voters were still trying to access it—many trying to register repeatedly with no success.

During the final seven hours of Monday, Oct. 5, only around 8,100 voters successfully accessed the system, while earlier in the day, over 70,000 had been able to log on before it began a slow crawl towards a crash around 5 p.m.

“The governor took quick and decisive action to ensure voter access to multiple registration options including online, in person, or through the mail. There was no basis for federal courts to get involved and the governor expected this outcome,” said a spokesperson for Gov. DeSantis.

Walker, however, indicated that the state’s failures were nothing for DeSantis to be proud of.

“This case is about how a state failed its citizens,” he wrote. “Potential voters attempted to perform their civic duty, to exercise their fundamental right, only to be thwarted, once again, by a state that seemingly is never prepared for an election.”

Dream Defenders, New Florida Majority, Latino Justice PRLDEF, and others who joined the lawsuit in Tallahassee, Florida said at least two additional days were needed to provide citizens with enough time to respond—anything less would be voter suppression.

Speaking to the historical significance of this case, and similar ones file during the contested 2000 presidential elections, Waller opened his opinion by saying: “I feel like I’ve seen this movie before. Just shy of a month from election day, with the earliest mail-in-ballots beginning to be counted, Florida has done it again…

Chilling words for what’s shaping up to be a chilling moment for U.S. democracy.

Al Neal is People’s World associate editor for labor and politics. He is also the chief photographer for People’s World.

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