My most recent blog entry took a second look at an issue important to both Floridians and Michiganders: prison privatization. As a snowbird who divides his time between both states, I again want to pursue the Florida-Michigan matchup. This week the issue is anti-fraud voter legislation.
In May, the Florida legislature approved a 157-page bill that revamps the state’s election code. Provisions include cutting the early-voting period in half from two weeks to one; making voter-registration groups like the League of Women Voters subject to fines not previously in place; obliging voters moving from one county to another to use provisional ballots instead of regular ones if they want to update their name or address at the polling place (a feature especially applicable to college students).
The vote followed party lines, with just two Republicans casting rogue No votes. Governor Scott signed the bill into law. Democrats argue that the legislation’s real purpose has nothing to do with guarding against election fraud, but instead seeks to create barriers for Democratic voters.
On May 9 a Naples resident wrote the Daily News the following: “It is with great regret that I must inform you that the League of Women Voters of Florida has decided to cease voter registration immediately due to the legislature’s passage of HB 1355.” The writer then quoted from a League press release: “While the League remains committed to empowering an active and informed citizenry, we cannot and will not place thousands of volunteers at risk, subjecting them to a process in which one late form could result in their facing financial and civil penalties.”
What’s wrong with such legislation? Apparently nothing, if you’re a Republican. Since 2011, seventeen states have passed laws to further control voter eligibility and access, all seventeen with Republican majorities in the state legislature.
Arguments have been made on both sides. According to an editorial in the Charleston (West Virginia) Gazette for July 6, new laws in “Texas and Tennessee allow voters to show pistol licenses at the polls (for purposes of identification), but not college student IDs. Guess which group leans right, which leans left?” But a commentator defending this arrangement makes the following point: “A pistol ID requires a background check and verification; someone with a college ID can easily be a non citizen or even an alien….”
Perhaps the question to ask is whether our system is riddled with fraud and identity theft at the polls. A statistic quoted in an article in the April 24 issue of U.S. News & World Report suggests the answer is no: “You have a better chance of being hit by lightning than discovering an incident of polling place fraud.”
An MSN.com piece on the same day quoted a quirky website, Life’s Little Mysteries: “National UFO Reporting Center records show there were 47,000 reports of UFO sightings between 2000 and 2010. During the same period, just 13 people were convicted of impersonating someone else in order to vote in their name.”
To sharpen the contrast, Comedy Central provided further input: “Each year 15 Americans are crushed to death by their furniture or televisions. 14 are injured by exploding toilets, and 100 are accidentally set on fire by their doctors during surgery.” (Note: The Comedy Central statistics have not been verified.)
But on July 4, alongside a lead story about new Americans taking the oath of citizenship, the Detroit Free Press’s second front-page article was headlined “Snyder vetoes stricter rules on voter ID.”
Like Governor Rick Scott, Rick Snyder is a wealthy and successful Republican businessman-governor. Unlike Scott, Snyder bucked the trend among his GOP gubernatorial counterparts by refusing to sign more restrictive voter legislation. It included provisions “that would have imposed tighter photo ID and citizenship requirements and put new restrictions on voter registration drives.”
According to the article, “Snyder is the first Republican governor to veto any such bills, according to the Brennan Center for Justice at New York University….”
Why did he do it? Perhaps, after reading Brennan Center statistics, he was moved by conscience: 5 million Americans could be prevented from voting because of the new laws. “To put that in perspective,” the Center tells us, “it is larger than the margin of victory in two of the last three presidential elections.”
Whatever else might be said of Rick Snyder, his veto has proved Michigan’s Republican governor to be his own man and no kneejerk party loyalist. At least on one very important issue.