11 November 2012

Red, White, and Blue

Today is Veterans Day. Saying "Happy Veterans Day" doesn't seem right, but like Thanksgiving, this is a day we say thanks, especially to those who didn't survive to see a Veterans Day of their own.
© Bish
Florida Fallout

The election is over, thank God. We can clap ourselves on the back for yet another peaceful transition of power. The year was long and the invective sometimes nasty, but I admired the symbolism of Chris Christie and President Obama. They stood shoulder to shoulder helping storm victims, reminiscent of days when opponents respected each other. Franklin Roosevelt and Harry Truman were known for hiring their admirable adversaries, which is the way it should be.
© Wiley Miller

I'm grateful we had decent candidates. Despite differing political persuasions, both were decent family men, both well educated, both moderate, both dedicated to improving the country, and both seemed better than their parties. (I know, I know… opinions vary.)

But in Florida, we have a problem. The past half year alarmed me. I gathered news clippings– 55 to date– about my home state's attempts at voter suppression. As an independent, I disdain both parties, but coming up to the election, how could I document voter suppression without seeming to zero in on one party? I couldn't; the only solution was to let the problem become so evident it could no longer be ignored.

By now you know Florida's governor and legislature made it difficult to register and vote. Changes in state law reduced the number of days to vote by 43%, reduced the number of hours, and reduced resources. Worse, the law provided harsh, harsh penalties for the simplest of mistakes when helping others to register.

League of Women Voters– out of Florida

Penalties were so draconian, the League of Women Voters– sneered at in Florida as 'leftist'– abandoned its registration drives for the first time in 72 years.

What we took for granted was no more: Civics teacher Jill Cicciarelli headed New Smyrna Beach's student government association, which encouraged students to take part in democracy. She tripped over the new regulations and found herself subjected to prosecution and 'massive fines' for helping qualified students to register.

Why restrict new registration? Florida is a magnet for several groups, including retirees and Hispanics. Florida's percentage of voters past a certain age tends to top other states. Health care is of great concern to the elderly as insurance premiums and outright rejections shoot up while income plummets. The aged was only one minority group targeted by strategists, but that was where another part of the new restrictions kicked in.

Not Just Any ID

Originally an applicant's details were gathered during registration including address and signature. On voting day, we once simply identified ourselves in the book, we signed in, precinct workers matched the signatures and addresses, and we were free to vote. The new law required not merely ID, but Florida photo ID. An out-of-state license would not do, nor would student ID, or a utility bill to prove residence, or even a passport if it still had an address from 'up north'. On election day, hundreds of new residents were turned away because, as per the new law, they hadn't updated their IDs.

By the end of October, former governors Charlie Crist and Jeb Bush had had enough and spoke out. Charlie Crist sharply chastised Governor Scott reminding him he was supposed to serve all Florida citizens, not just his own party.
Voting Overseas

Although I've often lived and worked in other countries, this is the first time I've filled in a ballot overseas. The process takes two steps.

For federal election, you can request a mail-in package from your embassy or consulate, or visit the nearest consulate, in my case Durban, South Africa. Before 911, a reception center might have looked like an old-fashioned drawing room where avuncular employees called you into wood-paneled offices for conversations. These days consulates are found on secured floors in secured buildings with lexan and more lexan, rather like banks. Once you're admitted, you wait at a teller-like window until an employee comes to help.

The federal package contains questionnaires and identification forms, then a couple of envelopes and a ballot, or 'smart ballot' if you vote by party rather than candidate. What that means is if you don't happen to know your congressional candidates or senators, as long as you select a president, the rest will be filled in automatically by residence and party affiliation. To split a ticket, fill in your candidates as you please.

Place your ballot in the small envelope and seal it. Place the small envelope and the questionnaire in the large envelope and write your county and state upon it. Your ballot is delivered, presumably by diplomatic pouch.

For state, county, and local, you have to contact your county elections office and request a packet well in advance of elections. Fill in the questionnaires, fill in the ballots, and mail them before election day. Florida ballots are huge as is the postage required.


The Speaker of the House of the Florida Legislature ducked acknowledging the obvious when he said he'll investigate what went wrong during the election. Cynics perhaps unfairly say the investigation will be how his party failed to deliver his party's vote. For his part, Governor Rick Scott still insists the election worked exactly as planned– precisely what most people feared.

Who is Governor Rick Scott? He engineered the largest Medicare/Medicaid fraud in US History. The fines alone were $1.7 BILLION. That didn't touch the great wealth Scott socked away. Records show he spent $71 million of his own money to acquire the governorship– actually $71 million of our money.

Florida should feel embarrassed even if Scott isn't. Since then, he's run the state like he's playing a Sim-City game. In doing so, he's managed to become one of the most unpopular governors ever.

Meanwhile in America

I once lived in a forest in the distant north. I got to know two men– one young, one not– each who caused fatal DUI accidents and spent time incarcerated. Each petitioned the state for restoration of civil rights including the right to freely travel and vote.

We're taught in civics classes once a felon pays his obligation to society, he's free to rejoin and live his life as normal. But that doesn't always happen. Some people endure continuing punishment: sex register lists, restrictions on foreign travel, and often curtailment of voting rights. Not all states restore civil rights when a sentence ends.

A California sheriff is taking a different approach. He encourages inmates in his jail to integrate into society by voting. And, as long as an inmate isn't a convicted felon, he helps inmates register.

Who knows how that might work out? I admire lateral thinking and any experiment that offers a chance of reducing our exploding prison population deserves a shot.

On this Veteran's Day, I'm pleased this election year is behind us. For many of us, a shorter election season now looks attractive. Whatever your political party, whoever your candidate, we owe a debt to others who can't be with us. Have a good, good Veterans Day.


  1. A good post.

    Florida politics are only funny in fiction.

  2. Thanks, Leigh. A sickening answer to the question I've been asking since Election Day: "What is wrong with Florida?" The next questions are "Why did Floridians elect this yoyo?" and "Can these laws be challenged in Constitutional terms and thus in the Supreme Court?"

  3. You're right, Janice, and thank you.

    Elizabeth, if I remember right, the Justice Department instructed the governor not to implement part of the suppression scheme. A Justice directive isn't the same as a court order, and Scott ignored it.

    It may be possible to challenge the law, or at least part of it. Jim Crow is alive and tolerably well in Florida, although we call him Rick Scott.

  4. One of the late night humorists said this week "Florida shouldn't even be allowed to vote for American Idol."

  5. We had what turned out to be a timely trip to the Kennedy Center last night to see the incredible stage version of "Warhorse." The story culminates on Armistice Day, the original Veteran's Day. An amazing theatrical recounting of what it was like to go through World War I. Liked the movie, but was completely enthralled by the play. Highly recommended!

  6. Excellent piece! And I'll point out what you already no doubt know: that a key part of the Voting Rights Act that requires states with long-term prior records of vote suppression to get pre-approval before they do things to put up hurdles to voting is coming before the Supreme Court for review. So it won't just be Florida that plays dirty games. Here's the link

  7. What about Obama? Karl Rove proved he did voter suppression.

  8. Anon #1, thank you for the information. I'm repeating the link here so it's clickable.

    Anon #2, I had to do some research to see what you meant. Apparently Mr. Rove appeared on a Fox talk show and said attack ads about Bain turned off voters, which amounted to suppression. It's also suggested President Obama manipulated storm warnings to prevent voting.

    By the way, I'll look for a link if anyone wishes but Bloomberg BusinessWeek figured out Mr. Romney's tax situation for the undisclosed period. The gist was that he used a CRUT that allowed him to legally avoid taxes altogether (for 9 years, if I recall). The practice was disallowed in 2010.

    Dale, if you liked it, the play must be great.

  9. Like the piece. Last year I videoed the Veteran's Day parade here in Knoxville and added it to my collection of historical events folder.

    Can I establish residence in Florida just long enough to vote against the current governor?

  10. This comment has been removed by the author.

  11. Thanks, Louis. Scott seems to consider Florida his own personal fiefdom.

    It doesn't take much to establish residence here, usually the address where you receive mail and sometimes a utility bill.

    I forgot to mention above, the Justice Dept. had directed the state to cease voter roll purges, which Scott refused to do. We were told the roll purges were supposed to strike off suspected felons, people no longer living, etc. Since they were merely matching names, they had many more false positives than actual hits. For example, they might see an L. Willis and Leonard Willis and consider those duplicates and strike one or both off.

  12. Alan West is refusing to concede his congressional seat, touted as the most expensive race in the nation. Despite the Supervisor of Elections ruling, he's going to court, although his campaign manager says he has little chance of winning.

  13. Well, Leigh, this week, in my post, I'm considering writing about a sheriff who was reelected here in Arizona. And, when I do, I’ll take some of the heat off you Floridians by also mentioning that the “Toughest Sheriff in America” was reelected here in Maricopa County.

    The subject of my post, however, might just be that other reelected sheriff – the one that’s just as tough, Republican and (can you believe it?) openly gay.


  14. That should be interesting, Dixon. I think Joe's fallen to seductive wiles of publicity. There seems to be some formula where ego reaches critical mass and implodes.

    I look forward to your column, Dixon.

  15. As a Florida voter may I say that there is some good news from Florida. 1. Alan West went down. 2. Connie Mack (my current congress member) lost his bid to unseat Senator Nelson. 3. The Republican party (who brought us all those constitutional amendments which lenghtened the ballot and then went down in flames)lost its super-majority in the state legislature, and finally, 4. We can hammer away at Governor Scott for the next two years until someone else defeats him. If we let this go, he'll win again and do worse. He doesn't respect his constituents. His response so far has been: "The good thing is that a lot of people voted and here in Florida we want jobs and a good education for our children."

    A lot can be done to resturcture the system but it is going to take a lot of folks putting in a lot of effort.


  16. some formula where ego reaches critical mass and implodes

    No doubt! LOL

  17. In the news Alan West is refusing to concede, even tho county clerks saying there's no chance of error after double check. He filed court challenges in 2 counties.

  18. Florida, oh, Florida. On the other hand, South Dakota has its moments too, but since we're so small, and we only have 1 Representative, no one much notices. Our latest was that the people turned down the SD Gov's initiatives to open the money trough to out of state corporations. (What can I say? We're all still pissed that he slashed education 10% and then said, great, now let's keep it that way and cut it some more.) In return, the governor made a public statement that we're all too dumb and too tired to be able to read ballot initiatives. He's since "apologized", but basically thinks that democracy isn't what it's cracked up to be.


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