With Liberty and Justice for those who can knock off work on Tuesday

While everyone in the Bay – including the St. Pete. Times – was justifiably focused on the Hillsborough County Commission blatantly discriminating against gays and essentially violating First Amendment rights, our elected governor snuck one by us, and I don’t think anyone’s really noticed yet.

On June 21, page 3B (the local section) in a side column, the Times ran an article headlined, “Bush signs bill limiting early voting.” I’ve included the full article below behind a cut.

I’ll let you read the article, but the long and short of it is that early voting is being limited both by resources, locations and hours, including the provisions that early voting cannot be held more than eight hours on any weekend and that it ends on the Sunday before the election. In other words, you can’t vote the day before the Tuesday election.

It seems many elections supervisors were pretty much against this decision, which was pushed through by Florida’s Republican dominated branches. Of course, one elections supervisor who supports the bill is Buddy Johnson, Hillsborough’s Elections Supervisor and Republican assjackal supreme. I’m not saying he’s an assjackal because he’s Republican, but I’m sure that helps influence his assjackalness. If you’d like to know why, you’re more than welcome to read my accounts of early voting and notes about Johnson this past November.

Obviously, I have problems with the lack of fundamental ethics behind the bill, but I have a bigger problem with the awful coverage this has been given, and how little people are consequently aware of it.

First, the Times fails tremendously in the article itself. There are no details about the advantages of early voting, if any exist. Also, the Times doesn’t provide any stats on what the party split was for early votes. Is Jeb basically preventing Democrats from voting early, because most people who can’t get out of work between 8 and 5 on a Tuesday vote Democrat? That’s what I’m assuming, but the Times doesn’t provide any info to support or disprove my theory. Maybe if they didn’t blow so many barrels of ink on Schiavo (STILL?!), they’d be able to print me a fucking pie graph. The only stat I really get from the article is that 51% of Citrus county voted early, which should instigate a question somewhere asking how Florida government can rationalize restricting early voting. But I don’t even know how much of that Citrus majority was Democrat or Republican.

Now let’s talk priority. The article is on 3B. 1B focuses on the aforementioned Commission activity and fallout. Okay, I can understand that, but explain to me how another 1B article about a local DJ and his car accident gets more priority. 2B is saturated in whatever inconsequential crap is going on in Hollywood, film and movies. Y’know, whatever critical knowledge we as a race can gain from Tom Cruise and the fate of the Miss America pageant. Want to know what’s on 1A – the front page? Above the fold (the part that sells the paper) is a giant picture of Terry Schiavo’s fucking headstone. The rest of the “most important” headlines is the price of oil, something about credit cards and an article that starts with “Saddam Hussein loves Doritos, hates Fruit Loops….” Even the margin with leads to the local section doesn’t mention this.

The only insight I have acquired from the article is perhaps a hint into why voter apathy exists: because my local newspaper apparently doesn’t give much more of a shit than the officials I tried to vote out of office.

Bush signs bill limiting early voting
Early voting proved to be so popular in its first test in Florida last year that election supervisors wanted to expand the hours and add more locations.

But the Republican-controlled Legislature rejected both requests, and on Monday Gov. Jeb Bush signed a law limiting the hours of early voting and confining it to election offices, city halls and libraries.

The new law limits early voting to no more than eight hours a day, changing the old law that allowed early voting at least eight hours a day. Early voting also cannot be held more than eight hours on any weekend, and it must end the Sunday before the election.

Legislators defended the eight-hour limit as a way to bring uniformity to a new way of voting. Democrats accused Republicans of trying to suppress turnout in Democrat-leaning counties with working- class people who can’t leave work to vote during the day, such as in Miami-Dade and Broward counties.

The changes would apply to the 2006 elections, when voters will choose a governor and U.S. senator.

Elections officials in four diverse Florida counties reacted with disappointment.

“It is going to be a little bit more limiting,” said Lori Hudson, deputy elections administrator for Pinellas County. “We have to decide what are the eight hours that are going to be best for serving the citizens.”

A year ago, Pinellas offered early voting sites for 10 hours a day, from 8 a.m. to 6 p.m. Miami-Dade, the state’s largest county, offered early voting in 12-hour sessions from 7 a.m. to 7 p.m., to allow people to vote before or after work.

“Early voting was extremely popular here, and we wanted to give people the flexibility to vote when they wanted to,” said Seth Kaplan of Miami-Dade’s elections department. “It’s the law, and we’ll comply.”

Hillsborough County Elections Supervisor Buddy Johnson took a different tack from his colleagues and praised the early voting law as a positive step.

“There is a desire among everybody to be more consistent among the counties,” Johnson said, echoing the sentiment of the bill’s sponsors. “My own personal view is that early voting in Florida is still new and some caution moving forward is good.”

The bill Bush signed (HB 1567) also expands a no-solicitation rule from 50 feet to 100 feet at early voting sites, and prohibits elections supervisors from changing early voting sites less than 30 days before an election.

Democratic lawmakers pounced on the bill’s effect on early voting.

“Apparently, the Republicans also decided that early voting was too successful, because they are now preventing our communities from using it more than eight hours per day,” said Rep. Chris Smith of Fort Lauderdale, the House Democratic leader. “Isn’t the whole point of democracy to encourage more people to vote?”

Rep. Tim Ryan, D-Dania Beach, said: “We ought to extend early voting hours even further, not limit them like this bill does.”

Citrus County Elections Supervisor Susan Gill, president of the statewide association of elections supervisors, said 51 percent of Citrus voters cast early ballots in 2004.

Gill said she must offer early voting at cramped branch libraries in Floral City and Homosassa. “Those libraries are too small,” Gill said.

Elections supervisors will try again next year to persuade the Legislature to expand early voting, Gill said, their last chance before the 2006 elections. “Hope springs eternal,” Gill said.

Orange County Elections Supervisor Bill Cowles said many libraries are not large enough to accommodate the improvements voters want, such as more machines, precinct workers and parking spaces.

Cowles said he saw signs of partisanship in the Legislature’s 2005 decisions.

“It could be that many of these limitations are there to limit the voters’ ability to participate in early voting,” Cowles said. “The Republicans are more focused on polling place elections versus the Democratic Party, which would like to have more expanded opportunities, and they’ve embraced the early voting.”

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