No Turning ‘Round, Late Night Voting in Florida
At times history and fate meet at a single time in a single place to shape a turning point in man’s unending search for freedom. So it was at Lexington and Concord. So it was a century ago at Appomattox. So it was last week in Selma, Alabama. — President Lyndon Johnson
About 145 miles from the Florida border is the town of Selma, Alabama which became etched in our national consciousness in 1965 when state police brutally blocked civil rights activists attempt to cross Selma’s Edmund Pettus Bridge to head to the capitol in Montgomery to talk with Governor Wallace about attacks against voting rights marchers. Seventeen marchers were hospitalized in what has been called “Bloody Sunday”.
“Bloody Sunday” was followed by “Turnaround Tuesday” when two days later Martin Luther King led 1,500 marchers to the same point and again was met by state troopers. King led the marchers in prayer before turning around only to return again days later with 8,000 marchers and a court order protecting their right to march. The spirit of Selma was evident in one of the anthems of the era, “Ain’t gonna let nobody turn me around.”
The nation was horrified by the events in Selma and President Johnson spoke to Congress eight days later and called for what would become the Voting Rights Act.
. . . . This was the first nation in the history of the world to be founded with a purpose. The great phrases of that purpose still sound in every American heart, north and south: “All men are created equal” — “Government by consent of the governed” — “Give me liberty or give me death.”… Those words are a promise to every citizen that he shall share in the dignity of man.
In 2010, Florida elected Tea Party Republican Rick Scott as Governor of Florida. He has implemented a number of voter suppression measures including (i) restricting voter registration efforts so as to force Rock the Vote and the League of Women Voters to abandon Florida; (ii) purging voter rolls; (iii) new voter identification requirements; (iv) increasing restrictions on voting by non-violent felons; and (v) limiting early voting from 14 to 8 days and eliminating early voting the Sunday before the election to prevent African-American churches from leading voters to the polls as they had in the past.
Saturday I visited polling stations in Broward County on the last day of early voting. At each precinct I visited, I saw staggeringly long lines of predominately African and Latin-American voters.
In one precinct, the line circled the entire building with waits of 3-4 hours. One poll watcher told me that there were too few voting machines and that Republican Governor Scott had plenty of machines sitting idle in a warehouses. (Republicans adopted similar tactics in Ohio in 2004.) We got affidavits from discouraged voters who left, but what was more amazing was the determination of those who stayed.
Later, I visited another precinct where over 500 were still in line when the polls officially closed at 7:00 p.m. At that time, a voting official with a folding chair goes to the end of the line and those in front of her are still permitted to vote. They would be there until shortly after 10:30 p..m. In one precinct in Miami they waited until 1:00 a.m.
The voters were not alone. Campaign workers were present with water and treats and several DJ’s cranked out a great mix of hip-hop and R&B to keep spirits high. These voters understood what was going on and they weren’t gonna let Rick Scott turn them around. They wanted their voice to be heard.
In 2008, Republican Governor Charlie Crist faced similar long lines and he extended the hours of early voting – something Governor Scott has refused.
I did it because the disaster that was happening was that people weren’t being able to exercise this precious right that is the foundation of our democracy. That’s a disaster. . . When you have people waiting in line for four or five or even more hours — and a lot of them are senior citizens like they are in the state of Florida — that’s a disaster. And it’s wrong. And it’s indefensible. . . . I just don’t understand why you do something like that unless you’re trying to keep some people from the opportunity to be able to vote.
Governor Scott refused all requests to extend early voting.
Throughout the night, I thought of the Republicans and their obsession over flag lapel pins which only exemplifies their false patriotism. There is nothing patriotic about seeking to limit or discourage people from voting. Governor Scott and others in the GOP Voter Suppression machine were not half the patriots as these determined people who stood for hours to exercise their right to vote. While they may never have heard of the Edmund Pettus Bridge, the spirit of Selma was with them nonetheless.
If President Obama carries Florida on Tuesday and wins reelection as a result, he should not forget the sacrifice of these citizen heroes and Democrats should show the same determination when they return to Washington. Maybe they can start with voter protection laws, since it is tragic that nearly a half century after Selma minorities still must fight for their right to vote in America.