Florida’s Dual Election System

Florida election law review will extend into July.

So says the Associated Press.

“A federal court review of Florida’s new election law will extend into July, just a month before the Aug. 14 primary. A Department of State spokesman on Monday said Florida is prepared to use two election laws if the U.S. District Court in Washington, D.C., doesn’t rule before the primary.”

My previous thoughts on Florida’s dual election system under HB1355 can be found here.

Florida Early Voting

Professor Michael Herron (Dartmouth) and I look forward to sharing our findings on early voting in Florida in the 2008 election at the 2012 State Politics and Policy Conference to be held in Houston, TX on February 16-18, when we present our paper, “The Participatory Impact of Truncating Early Voting in Florida.” It’s pretty timely, given all the attention that Florida US Senators Bill Nelson and Marco Rubio have given to early voting and HB1355.

Here’s our Abstract (tentative):

Over the past two decades, an increasing number of American states have made it more convenient for potential voters to cast early ballots.  Starting with Texas’ adoption of in-person early voting in 1988, 32 states now provide an extended time period prior to Election Day for voters to go to the polls.  Despite the diffusion of and praise by voting rights advocates for early voting, in 2011 the Florida legislature enacted House Bill 1355, which truncated the state’s early voting period from a total of 14 days to eight days and completely eliminated  early voting on the Sunday immediately preceding Election Day.  Critics of the legislation contend the surreptitious goal of the Republican-controlled legislature was to depress African American early voting turnout in 2012.

In this paper, we draw on an original dataset to gauge the potential participatory ramifications of HB 1355 by examining patterns of early voting in the 2008 general election.  By merging the state’s 2008 voter file, comprised of more than 11.3 million registered voters, with the state’s November 2008 early voter file, we are able to assess and study the race and ethnicity, party registration, age, gender, precinct/county registration, and vote history of each registered voter, including those who cast an early ballot, in 2008.

Unlike many studies of early voting in the American states which rely on aggregate-level data, we are able to pinpoint not only which voters were more likely to cast early ballots—specifically their socio-demographic characteristics—but we can also describe on which day during the two-week period in 2008 that they voted.  We employ a variety of multivariate models to test the conventional wisdom that African American voters are more likely than whites to vote early, and vote on Sunday, and that older and partisan voters vote early more often (Stein 1998). In addition, using a voter’s vote history to model early voting, we challenge the growing scholarly consensus—which is based largely on survey data—that early voting merely retains engaged voters (Stein 1998; Neely and Richardson 2001; Berinsky 2005; Kousser and Mullen 2007; Burden, et al. 2011; Gronke, Galanes-Rosenbaum, and Miller 2008) rather than stimulating peripheral voters.

Will Florida Election Law #HB1355 Increase Absentee Ballot Voter Fraud?

I’ve been writing a lot over the past five months about House Bill 1355, dubbed by many as Florida’s ignominious voter suppression law. HB1355  is being challenge in federal court, and the US Justice Department has yet to grant preclearance of portions of the law which cover five Florida counties covered by Section 5 of the Voting Rights Act.  Defending the law, the Florida Secretary of State is suing in Federal Court to not only uphold all sections of the law, but to strike down Section 5 of the Voting Rights Act.

Most of the attention that I and others have given to HB1355 has focused on three areas that the GOP-controlled legislature cracked down on in order to make it more difficult for citizens of Florida to register to vote and cast a ballot, namely:

1) Reducing the number of days for early voting from 14 days to eight days, and altogether eliminating early voting on the Sunday before the Tuesday election.

2) Requiring third-party voter registration organizations to submit voter registration applications within 48 hours of receipt instead of ten days as provided by existing law, and imposing a fine of $50 for each failure to comply with the deadline, and imposing fines up to $1,000 for failing to comply with other provisions.

3) Disallowing voters who move from one Florida county to another to make an address change at the polls on the day of an election and vote a regular ballot, except for active military voters and their family members.

(Less attention has been given to the portion of the law that reduces the shelf-life of citizen initiative petition signatures proposing constitutional amendments from four years to two years.)

Virtually no attention has been given to HB1355’s impact on absentee voting in Florida. The reason is fairly simple: the law has actually made it easier for citizens to cast an absentee ballot, and actually, increases the likelihood of voter fraud.

Absentee ballot fraud is not limited to Miami mayoral races. Just yesterday, several people in Madison County, including a candidate for school board, were arrested and charged with obtaining absentee ballots for other people without the voters’ knowledge or consent.  The candidate and her accomplices then provided an alternate address for the ballots to be mailed by the Supervisor of Elections, and allegedly then retrieved the ballots from the third party locations, brought the ballots to the voter, sometimes with the ballots already filled out, and then had the voter sign the absentee ballot signature envelope.

Tragically, HB1355 eliminates the provision that existed in 2010 when the fraud occurred, making future absentee ballot fraud more difficult to prosecute. Prior to the election code being changed by the Republican legislature in 2011, Supervisors of Elections were required to send absentee ballot to a voter’s registered address, unless the voter was absent from the county, hospitalized, or temporarily unable to occupy their residence.

But these provisions to reduce the possibility of absentee voter fraud were stricken by HB1355.  Instead of being required (with the forgoing exceptions) to send an absentee ballot “By nonforwardable, return-if-undeliverable mail to the elector’s current mailing address on file with the supervisor,” supervisors now may be asked by anyone (even over the phone) to mail an absentee ballot “to any other address the elector specifies in the request.”

HB1355 is an embarrassment, plain and simple. The Republican-controlled legislature’s intention was not to reduce voter fraud, of which there is virtually none when it comes to voter registration and early voting.  The reason lawmakers turned a blind eye to absentee ballots in the state–where there is clear evidence of voter fraud–is because registered Republicans are much more likely to use this form of convenience voting than their Democratic counterparts.  In 2008, Republicans had a 10.8% lead over Democrats voting absentee ballots by Election Day.

Partisan politics in Florida have reached a new low.

Why the Republican-controlled Florida Legislature Limited Voter Registration

I’ve written a considerable amount about the negative impact HB1355 likely will have on early voting in Florida. But the regressive law also affects the ability of Florida citizens to register to vote.

The Republican-controlled legislature’s rationale for the law–steeped in the anti-democratic rhetoric of making voting a privilege, not a right–continues to conjur up vestiges of Jim Crowism. “We’re going to have a very tight election here next year, and we need to protect the integrity of the election,” said Rep. Dennis Baxley, a Republican from Ocala. “When we looked around, we saw a need for some tightening.”

With respect to the severe restrictions placed on “third parties” (including individual citizens) interested in helping fellow citizens to register to vote, Republican lawmakers are surely cognizant of the surge of African Americans who registered to vote in Florida prior to the 2008 general election.

As I write with my co-author, Stephanie Slade (who works for The Winston Group, a Republican pollster based in DC) in a recent article on the 2008 election in Florida, “Obama to Blame? African American Surge Voters and the Ban on Same-Sex Marriage in Florida,”

Between December of 2007 and October of 2008, an additional 233,130 black Floridians registered to vote, a group of citizens we have referred to as the Obama-inspired African American surge. If these voters turned out at the same rate as the Florida electorate as a whole in the 2008 presidential election (74.6 percent), black surge voters would have constituted 173,915 of 8.39 million total votes cast for all the presidential candidates.

The numbers speak for themselves.

This spring, Republican lawmakers changed the rules to try to ensure that there will be no African American “surge voters” in 2012.

It will be up to the US Justice Department, as well as several interveners (including the ACLU, NAACP, and the League of Women Voters)–but ultimately the federal courts–to determine whether they ultimately succeed in their effort to suppress the vote in Florida.

Happy Birthday, California! A Century of Direct Democracy

As I’ve said publicly time and again, I’m unequivocally ambivalent about direct democracy. I’ve written a book critical of the populist rhetoric (faux populism) of ballot measures, and another praising the “educative effects” of direct democracy. My dozens of articles on direct democracy are empirically driven, as I’ve tried to keep a normative-neutral stance in my academic writings. Direct democracy is by no means a perfect system, but neither is representative democracy.

As with every other state, the record of direct democracy in California is certainly mixed.  Direct democracy just happens to be more prevalent in California than most other states. It trails only Oregon in the number of initiatives that have been qualified for the ballot since the state adopted the process in 1911.

Over the next century, hundreds of initiatives will again surely become qualified for the ballot.  Just this last week, Governor Jerry Brown took a courageous step to improve the process by signing Senate Bill 202, which now limits California ballot initiatives to November elections.  Besides the expected charges that the bill will help Democrats by having initiatives on the ballots in higher turnout elections, critics of SB 202 claim that citizens may be overwhelmed by the number of propositions that are expected to appear on general election ballots. Yet since 1912, California has averaged only 6.3 initiatives every two-year election cycle. Certainly, potential voters can handle this level of initiatives. Indeed, the state managed to survive the 1914 ballot, which had more than 40 statewide measures (initiatives, popular referendums, and legislative referendums)!  (Citizens wound up rejecting 11 of the 17 initiatives.)

Despite its flaws,there’s much to admire about the initiative process in California. The state has one of the best disclosure laws on the campaign financing of ballot measures, and as I’ve written elsewhere, it has solid laws regulating the circulation of petitions.

To be sure, reforms could be made to the state’s s initiative process. First, California does not make signatures submitted on initiative and popular referendum petitions, which could reduce fraud in the signature gathering process, as the Supreme Court of the United States recognized in its 2010 decision, Doe v. Reed. Second, is the only state that permits the process where the legislature may neither amend nor repeal an initiative statute. Both of these areas should be addressed by the state legislature in the coming years.

The process ofdirect democracy, as practiced in California over the past century, certainly has exhibited considerable vulnerabilities. There’s room for improving the system.  But over the years, it also has served as a “gun behind the door,” as Woodrow Wilson–a critic of direct democracy–reluctantly referred to the initiative process. It has kept the state legislature in check, given citizens a voice, and helped to engage the electorate and affect candidate campaigns. No political system is perfect, including California’s hybrid democracy, but it has lasted a century and it will no doubt continue to endure for years to come.