Who Really Won?

Tuesday, June 28, 2005

FLA: Elections, GOP Style

Elections, GOP-style: Voting just a formality

Palm Beach Post Editorial

Sunday, June 26, 2005

Gov. Bush completed the Republican makeover of Florida election laws last week by signing bills that make it harder to vote, shift control from local to state officials, give big-money contributors greater say and reduce majority rule.

How bad is it? In a three-person primary, 35 percent of the voters from just one party could determine who wins countywide offices such as sheriff or commissioner. In the Republican version of democracy, it's easy: When all the candidates are from one party, simply add a write-in candidate to close the primary to the opposing party's voters. Mix in the newly signed law eliminating runoffs and, voila, the candidate with a mere 35 percent of one party's vote can win.

Want to vote early but worried about long lines? The Republican-led Legislature and Gov. Bush shortened the hours for early voting in the interests of "uniformity." Big counties, small counties, it doesn't matter. Instead of a minimum eight-hour day, early voting gets a maximum eight-hour day. Weekends, when most people have more time to vote, are limited to eight hours — total.

Wonder why Florida is among just four states that won't automatically give felons back their voting rights after they serve time? The governor doesn't. Instead, he signed a bill that invests more authority in the secretary of state's office, which went too far in trying to remove alleged felons from voting rolls. Now, the office once controlled by Katherine Harris will wield even more control over the supposedly independent county supervisors. In Iowa, Gov. Tom Vilsack has agreed to automatic restoration of felons' voting rights, saying what Gov. Bush won't admit: "When you've paid your debt to society, you need to be reconnected to society." Iowa's shift leaves Florida in the company of Alabama, Kentucky and Virginia as the only states without automatic restoration.

While making it harder to vote, Republicans made it harder for their opponents to collect campaign cash, even while they collect more. Candidates for governor now can spend $20 million, up from $6 million, and still be eligible for public money. The idea is to make the cap so high that no one can reach it. In 1994, then-candidate Bush refused to accept public financing and spent over the limit, allowing Lawton Chiles to collect $1 in public money for every $1 Gov. Bush spent over the cap. Mr. Chiles won. Gov. Bush learned a lesson and made sure it wouldn't happen again. Voters are learning a lesson, too. When their interests conflict with those of Republicans, the Republicans get priority.