By Kendrick Meek
There was a lot of pride in 2008 when record numbers of minorities, fueled by many first-time young voters, turned out to vote nationally and in Florida. As Election Day 2012 approaches, there is some concern that the freshman voters from 2008 might suffer a sophomore slump.
We can’t let that happen, but the reason runs far deeper than our pride.
In 2008, African American voter participation increased over 2004 levels by 8 percent, from 60.3 percent to 65.3 percent. Latino participation increased by about 6 percent, from 47.2 to 49.9 and Asian participation also jumped significantly.
The response among Florida’s elected leadership to the 100 percent good news and remarkable achievement were that African Americans, Latinos and Asian voters had made up nearly a quarter of the electorate. Governor Rick Scott and the Florida legislature answered the trend of a more participatory democracy by trying to curtail it.
The first step was to limit the ability of voting advocates to register voters, a law so severe it lead to thousands of dollars in fines for a New Smyrna high school teacher who tried to register her students.
Legislators also decided to curtail early voting, shrinking the window for voting by eliminating the three days directly before the election. These were the three days many clergy used to urge congregations to participate in the election, an immensely popular event among African Americans. To target them for elimination logically leads to reduced participation among African American voters.
The state was not done with these measures and also issued an error-riddled list of more than 180,000 supposed non-citizens to be removed from the voter rolls. The problem was that many people on the list were indeed citizens, including Bill Internicola, a 91-year-old World War II veteran from Broward County. The list was especially troublesome for new citizens and it’s difficult to believe its creators weren’t keenly aware of this likely result.
While voters have gone about their daily routines, shuttling children back and forth, taking care of their families and extended families, working hard and keeping something of an eye on politics, politicians have been busy trying to undermine the ability, at least of some, to participate in the electoral process.
But for every eligible Floridian, there is an answer to this orchestrated attack. Vote. And vote early.
In Florida, early voting began on Oct. 27, 2012. Voting early doesn’t just help us avoid lines on Election Day; it also eliminates the chance of anything going wrong, whether it’s taking an ill child to the doctor or an unexpected crisis at work or the need to study for a test. Voting early removes any risk and ensures that your vote is heard on Election Day.
Politicians in Florida and around the nation used new laws and regulations to attempt to bully voters out of their votes. My mother, elected to the U.S. House of Representatives in 1992 and one of the first African American lawmakers to represent Florida since Reconstruction, always told me the best way to answer a bully was to stand up to him.
She was right, of course. The people who fought so hard to win the right to vote never made a promise to us that it would always be easy. There was an expectation, though, that all of us would be asked to do our part to ensure the right to vote, once won, could never be threatened again. That’s what’s at stake in this election.
The way to protect our vote is to use it; to cast our ballots this fall either in the early voting window or on Tuesday, Nov. 6, 2012. When we do, I cannot help but believe that all of the pioneers who gave so much, some of them their lives, will be immensely proud.