Changing Voters to New Precincts With Poor Notification: New Vote Suppression Tactic in Florida?

This is the mailer in which my new voter ID card arrived. Nowhere does it point out that I have been changed from one precinct to another so that I vote at a new site.

Today is primary day in Florida. It is being held on the earliest date in the past 40 years since Florida is hosting the Republican National Convention later this month. While there has been much attention paid to Rick Scott’s infamous voter purge that has prompted legal action from the Justice Department, today I encountered a much more insidious situation that could lead to many more people not voting in November.

I have resided at my current address since 2004 and have voted at a wonderful little country church whose building dates back to 1886 (there is music on autoplay at this link). But when my wife and I stopped by to vote on our way to lunch today, we got quite a surprise. The poll workers could not find either one of us on the voter list. After we joked a bit about being included in the purge because of my left wing blogging, the clerk picked up the phone to speak with the Alachua County Supervisor of Elections office to seek an answer for us. While she was still on the phone seeking information, another voter who came in after us also found that he was not listed on the voter roll.

It turns out that we have been switched to another polling place that is only a few blocks away from where we have voted for the past eight years. In order to drive from our house to our new polling place, we must drive past the old one. The election workers insisted that voters who were moved from one precinct to another were informed, but neither my wife nor I could recall seeing any such notification.

We dutifully went to the new polling place and voted. When I got back from lunch, I went through the spots in our house where mail might have accumulated and found the “notification” that had been sent. From the photo above, it is very easy to see how these notifications (there was one for each of the three registered voters in our household) had been set aside for holding since on first glance it looks only like a standard form for ordering an absentee ballot. Our travel plans did not call for us to be away today, so these forms had been set aside in case our plans changed.

Opening my mailer today, I found that the “Voter Information Card” referenced on the outside of the mailer was actually a new version of what I call my voter registration card. Nowhere on this mailer, either on the outside or inside, does it mention for voters to look carefully to determine whether their precincts have changed. My wife and I inexplicably have been moved from precinct 18 to precinct 58 and the only way to know that is to look at the small entry on the Voter Information Card.

Because I have a car and I don’t work on a time clock, I was able to work my way through this mix-up with only a few minutes lost and minor aggravation. Well, I also did stop to fill out a satisfaction survey to let the Supervisor of Elections know that I felt they handled this transition very poorly. It also helped that I did this during the low-turnout primary rather than November’s general election.

How many people will be disenfranchised in Florida this November because their precincts have changed? How will people who rely on bus transportation to their polling places deal with such a change? Will they have time to go to a new site if they are working on Election Day? The early voting period was shortened from two weeks to eight days this year in another move by Florida Republicans to make it harder for working people to vote and is another factor in today’s expected low turnout.

Oh, and just in case you clicked on the link to the Alachua County Supervisor of Elections, their link for “Information on Polling Place Changes” is not about people moving from one precinct to another. It is about changes to the voting sites themselves.

Update: Oh my. Look what I missed in the local paper while I was on vacation last week. The article bears the headline “Redrawn precincts could create confusion, groups say” and reads in part:

Leaders of the local NAACP and other organizations said Wednesday that new voting precincts could lead to confusion on election day and urged residents to learn their new polling place or to cast ballots early.

About six precincts in areas with a predominately black population are affected. In some cases, precincts have been eliminated entirely. In others, the redrawn lines have placed voters in new precincts.

Leaders believe the changes could lead to frustration on Aug. 14 if voters show up at their former polling place.

“This could be very dispiriting,” said Cynthia Chestnut, a former state representative and former Alachua County commissioner. “It’s incumbent on the supervisor of elections to mount a very spirited public education campaign from this day forward.”

The changes were made as part of redistricting that occurs every 10 years with new census data. Deputy election supervisor Will Boyett said the local changes were made based on new boundaries set by the state.

This would seem to confirm my worst fears about what is going on. It is especially troubling the boundaries were set by the state. That implies to me that the changes were indeed enacted in a way to suppress minority voting as much as possible.

Many years ago, Jim got a BA in Radiation Biophysics from the University of Kansas. He then got a PhD in Molecular Biology from UCLA and did postdoctoral research in yeast genetics at UC Berkeley and mouse retroviruses at Stanford. He joined biosys in Palo Alto, producing insect parasitic nematodes for pest control. In the early 1990’s, he moved to Gainesville, FL and founded a company that eventually became Entomos. He left the firm as it reorganized into Pasteuria Biosciences and chose not to found a new firm due a clash of values with venture capital investors, who generally lack all values. Upon leaving, he chose to be a stay at home dad, gentleman farmer, cook and horse wrangler. He discovered the online world through commenting at Glenn Greenwald’s blog in the Salon days and was involved in the briefly successful Chris Dodd move to block the bill to renew FISA. He then went on to blog at Firedoglake and served a brief stint as evening editor there. When the Emptywheel blog moved out of Firedoglake back to standalone status, Jim tagged along and blogged on anthrax, viruses, John Galt, Pakistan and Afghanistan. He is now a mostly lapsed blogger looking for a work-around to the depressing realization that pointing out the details of government malfeasance and elite immunity has approximately zero effect.
10 replies
  1. BSbafflesbrains says:

    If only these clever people could work on solving our real problems instead of working for the status quo.

  2. emptywheel says:

    Sounds like it. They started this strategy in MI in 2004.

    Have you offered to be a poll challenger? The point of shit like this is, obviously, to extend the lines on voting day. But usually a poll challenger can help a voter find her correct location, which will at least help the persistent voters get to vote.

  3. MadDog says:

    Repug voter suppression of likely Democratic-leaning constituencies does not take a “one size fits all” approach. This is a seriously detailed and multi-faceted plan to rob the vote.

    It is rare to find anyone who acknowledges or even understands that the actual acts of real voter fraud are in fact the machinations of the Repugs to deny likely Democratic-leaning constituencies their right to vote.

    It has long been a truism that when Repugs accuse someone (mostly Democrats) of illegality or other impropriety, those very crimes are the one the Repugs are most likely to have already committed themselves.

    The fact of the matter is that when Repugs scream out “Voter Fraud!”, they are not really complaining about someone else. They are instead really announcing their own intended actions for all to see.

  4. Jim White says:

    Note the update, where I include an article from the local paper I missed while I was on vacation last week. It turns out the new precinct assignments were done by the state and predominantly affect minority areas. What a surprise. Not!

  5. JohnLopresti says:

    There is, as MadDog alludes, a customized, statewise Republican initiative for the 2012 voting season consciously formed to keep Democratic party voters and Democratic-leaning independents from voting or easy voting. In states like FL with a Republican Secretary of State, and in states which voted legislature majorities in the last election putting Republicans in the plurality, the 2012 presidential general election is going to see numerous such deliberate disenfranchisements.

    Picture ID for the poor, elderly, infirm; are meant to disenfranchise.

    Hans von Spakovsky published fables about an ostensibly 10x larger error rate in FL voter rolls than actually proved to be the case. Look for his hype and John Fund’s; I do not link to that specious fabrication kind of politics.

    I believe the League of Women Voters remains decided to prescinding from trying to help voter registration in FL because of the Republicans’ new massive increases for penalties if a registration is sent to the registrar later than a stipulated number of hours after the registration is obtained.

    Republicans want less government, but more responsivenes by government to the most moneyed Republicans; let them govern in secrecy and unilaterally is their motto.

    Check out another key state where there were electoral shenanigans in 2004, Ohio; and specifically what is going on in the courts concerning Cuyahoga County. Republicans are bent on winning. They feel the cost of scamming voters and sending voters in circles to keep them from voting is a worthwhile risk, because Scalia proved in 2000 that the Supreme Court is prepared to take over a state’s results and ban a recount as long as the RNC pursues court oversight to halt reexamination of canvassed results. OH, too, had scandal attached to its canvass methods in that election, as well as the whole flareup over misdirection of voters by sequestering votes off regular ballots and onto never tabulated provisional ballots; OH Republicans are slick that way. IN is no better. PA has a chance, given its voter rolls purge law Republicans passed remains under court deliberation. But this gambit is a principal maneuver by Republicans this general election cycle, especially in states with a substantial bloc of people willing to see unfairness at the polls.

    EW is right, though, too. The north central states like MI and WI are engaged in their own Republican chicanery. Ask college students if they can vote where they live in the dorms or if they have to vote in their hometowns elsewhere. Ask college students whether they belive Republican poll workers and administrators are prepared to accept a campus picture ID.

    This election is going to be those sorts of dirty tricks. The Republican planner Richeliex are relishing the thought of pushing the Democrats to a rock and hard place after the election voting ends but the date for publishing final legal vote tallies draws near very quickly thereafter. Many states are going to need shuttle conveyances among polls for the significantly numerous voters who are going to get the same butterfly graphics design Jim White received in his precinct assignment change.

    I would add something about TX, but that would be beyond the pale. Voters need to put Democratic secretaries of state in office if they wish to have poll access.

  6. rugger9 says:

    Speaking of voter fraud, there was a MA state rep race that had the GOP incumbent re-register seniors and D activists as Rs wanting absentee ballots, and then used them to vote for himself. The ID laws do nothing to stop this activity.

    http://www.dailykos.com/story/2012/08/14/1120250/-Voter-Fraud-discovered

    I’d also like to point out again that the GOP is the party committing almost all if not all of the voter fraud, including Mitt Romney allegedly living in his son’s basement to vote for Scott Brown. Why the MSM isn’t pointing this detail out only shows how in the tank they are for needing a “horse race” for ratings and ad revenue.

  7. JohnLopresti says:

    Here are some links for the current curtailment of early voting hours only in Democratic majority districts and precincts in which poor people live in OHio,

    http://www.nova-ohio.org/Racial%20and%20ethnic%20proportions%20of%20early%20in-person%20voting.pdf

    http://electionlawblog.org/wp-content/uploads/OFA-Complaint-as-Filed.pdf

    For the new requirement for extra identification’s impact upon elderly voters in one part of the state of TX, where the identification issuance would mean making elders drive 100 miles for the extra identity papers,

    http://www.law.northwestern.edu/lawreview/v103/n1/63/LR103n1Ackerman&Nou.pdf

    And back in FL, the governor is making news about preparations to resume the voter rolls purge, evidently,

    http://saintpetersblog.com/2012/08/scott-administration-voter-purge-will-start-again-before-general-election/

    And, re the first FL rolls purge’s emerging as statistically insignificant when all the hyperbole settled,

    http://electionsmith.wordpress.com/2012/06/29/the-failed-florida-secretary-of-states-voter-purge-exclusive/

    There is something nice I would like to say here about the work DoJ civil division has done in the 5 parts of FL with VRA section 5 preclearance requirements, but it seems a bit far from Jim White’s topic. DoJ still does stuff to help minorities. And the League of Women voters participated in a complaint in court about that issue in FL during 2011.

    It is within Democratic party believers’ historical traits in election administration, too, to wax creative with election administration legerdemain in a close election; responding to [email protected], but I might expect a Brooks Brothers Rebellion if creating messiness in Republican administered states and districts proves possibly sufficient to pressure the courts to interfere with selecting the next president. Local corruptness is a different arena. Bush v Gore proved that Scotus might salivate at another such chance, except there are two new associate justices since Y2K…

    For some footnoted professorial notes (8 pages, draft published in summer 2011) re how to teach the law surrounding what Scotus did by blocking the FL state supreme court in Bush v Gore in Y2K,

    http://papers.ssrn.com/sol3/papers.cfm?abstract_id=1898755

    Here is a recent Brennan Center report about the ostensibly milquetoast sorts of misguidance Jim White’s new precinct number notice represents fairly typically:

    http://brennan.3cdn.net/ff65fb4dc51ee54e3c_fgm6ipgrp.pdf

    Yet, the history of subtle disenfranchisement techniques is chronicled in numerical terms in that report.
    3 MB, 56 pages. It takes a close reading to see the craftiness of the rules and regs morphings; but Brennan Center did a good job trying to flush out the deceipt, and to publish the report in a timely way this season.

    There is a kind of political legal jargon to the electoral lexicon. rugger9 is accurate in citing the very recently reported MA Republican related incident as ‘voter fraud’, at least insofar as details yet available; however, the quoted words usually are the Republican call to bathotic outrage among their own partisans and against supposed Democratic party members’ malfeasances, at least in the current jive Republicans are talking; enough to make Hans von Spakovsky tweet a tempest. The other kind of misdirection I described in election administration also must have some catchword jargon moniker, though I do not know what that terminology might be: the topic of ineptness of graphical comosition of notifications to voters.

  8. Eric Hodgdon says:

    I’m concerned with the changes in the requirements recently passed in several states, seemingly designed to exclude voters.

    However,

    While routine is comforting as it lessens thinking, in California and Nevada these polling place changes have been routine occurrences. While residing at the same locations, the polling places were changed every year or two. States with moderate to large population growth do have these issues to contend with.

    Since Florida has been booming, might you be over-reacting some? However, if the changes in your state are limited to certain areas without purpose or need for them, then you’ve got a point.

    It pays to READ the sample ballot – front to back each and every time.

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