Here’s a piece of unsolicited advice for Gov. Pat McCrory. He ought to veto the so-called “Election Reform” bill before it blows up in his face. But he shouldn’t take my word for it. He should ask his colleague, the Republican governor of Florida.
Florida Gov. Rick Scott is well aware of what happens when you cut early voting and make it harder for your own residents to vote. In 2011, Florida’s Republican-dominated state legislature passed and Scott signed a bill that cut early voting from 14 days to eight and eliminated Sunday voting.
The result was a total debacle.
By cutting early voting, Florida Republicans did not decrease demand or enthusiasm for voting. All they did was compress millions of voters into a narrower voting window. With fewer days to vote early and without safeguards to keep the early voting sites open longer, the new law produced longer lines and increased waiting times at the polls.
On the last day of Early Voting in Florida in 2012, lines wrapped around buildings and snaked through parking lots. The lines stretched so long that people needed food, water and lawn chairs to rest while they waited. In some South Florida locations, many had to wait six hours before they could vote.
The last early vote in Palm Beach County was cast at 2:50 a.m., almost eight hours after the polling site closed.
Ultimately, the long lines damaged Florida’s reputation, the integrity of its electoral process and the reputation of Florida’s governor. The fiasco made national headlines, embarrassing the state and Scott. Once again, Florida became the butt of late-night comedians’ jokes for its failure to run an election worthy of a first-world nation.
According to an Ohio State University study, more than 200,000 Floridians saw the long lines on Election Day and gave up, never casting a ballot.
Most people would agree that exercising our constitutional right to vote doesn’t need to be effortless, but it also shouldn’t require bathroom breaks, a day off of work or paying for six hours of child care.
In fact, the blowback was so vehement that Scott changed course and backed an effort to restore early voting in Florida to 14 days. In May, Scott signed that legislation into law, saying, “Our ultimate goal must be to restore Floridians’ confidence in our election system. We need more early voting days.”
Now, North Carolina lawmakers are well aware of the debacle in Florida. During a House Elections Committee hearing in April, a Florida elections official came to Raleigh to testify. When asked about Florida’s experience with reducing early voting, he simply said, “It was a nightmare.”
Despite the warnings, the N.C. General Assembly seems all to eager to repeat Florida’s mistakes. House Bill 589 will cut early voting by a week, end same-day registration, eliminate Sunday voting and implement a tedious voter ID requirement – all of which will increase lines and waiting times at polling sites.
McCrory should see this train wreck coming from a mile away.
While other controversial elements of HB 589 affect limited portions of North Carolina’s population – such as requiring voter ID or eliminating high school voter registration drives – longs lines at the polls affect everyone: Republicans and Democrats.
Early voting is popular. Fifty-six percent of 2012 voters in North Carolina chose to vote early. Seventy-five percent say they’ve used early voting in the past.
By wrecking such a popular program, McCrory will face the same wrath that Scott faced in Florida. Whatever Florida Republicans thought they were gaining by cutting back on early voting ultimately wasn’t worth it.
But for McCrory, the decision is less about naked political calculation and more about what will protect the integrity of our democratic process.
For all the bluster about voter fraud, nothing will damage the integrity of our elections more than for North Carolina to become the next Florida.
Justin Guillory is research and communications director for Progress North Carolina.