Commentary: The American Disgrace of Long Lines

In at least two states, Republican officials have turned early voting into a maddening endurance event.

Posted: 11/05/2012 06:30 PM EST
Commentary: The American Disgrace of Long Lines

Early voting was meant to be a convenience, not some protracted endurance event.

However, there is no blemish on American democracy more unsightly these days than the extensive lines of disheartened people waiting to cast ballots in Florida and Ohio. It rivals the lack of leadership — let alone compassion — among elections officials in those states to solve the problem.

In major cities in Ohio and Florida, citizens have stood in lines for hours — some as long as six and seven hours — simply to take advantage of early voting provisions and to cast their ballots ahead of Election Day. For thousands of voters, it has been an experience that makes a Department of Vehicles line seem like an amusement park experience.

The long lines are often in communities with large African-American and Latino populations, which is a key to understanding the objectives of the elections officials in these crucial battleground states. 

Both states have Republican-controlled legislatures and GOP governors. Their agenda has been clear: To diminish as much as possible the voting potential of Democratic-leaning groups. That means African-American, Latino, young and urban voters.

In Ohio, early voting was reduced from the five weekends before the election to just the weekend proceeding Election Day. In October, Ohio’s Republican secretary of state Jon Husted fought against allowing voting in the last three days before the election. Husted took the case up to the United States Supreme Court, which declined to hear it.

In Florida, the Republican-run legislature reduced the number of days that voters could cast their ballots early from 14 to eight days. As a result, the lines in the last few days have been long, with elections officials threatening to cut off voting at the end of the business day despite thousands of dispirited Floridians waiting in line. Democratic officials in the state went to court to allow the voting to continue and makeshift provisions were agreed to.

Still, the scenes represent an indictment on the partisan elections officials who are determined to affect the outcome of the presidential election. 

The fact is that voting should be encouraged and broadened to include as many Americans as possible. In the process, voters should be accommodated in order to make casting a ballot an experience that is convenient, uncomplicated and reasonably swift. Republican officials in Florida and Ohio — and they are only the two most prominent of the wayward states — have been hell-bent on making it cumbersome and, ultimately, discouraging.

After all, a woman taking care of an infirm mother can’t spare seven hours to stand in a voting line. The college student who has an afternoon midterm can’t stay in line all day. Parents with obligations to pick up or drop off their kids are unable to amend their schedules in order to spend an additional five hours to wait to cast a ballot.

It is a maddening scenario, and it’s fueled by the same impulses and injustice that led to efforts to discouraging populations of voters from voting in earlier eras of American history. It's simply the latest tactic in voter suppression.

Alan B. Williams, a Democratic member of the Florida House of Representatives, said it aptly. “This is truly frustrating,” he said. “You would think that Florida would want to do this voting thing right, after the history the state has had with elections. But the Republicans wanted to reduce early voting. Everyone knew it would create long lines and discourage voters.”

More than anything, the long lines at the polls are nothing short of a disgrace to the American ideal of democracy. 

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(Photo: Joe Raedle/Getty Images)

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