The above experience has been mine through all the elections I've experienced since I moved to Orlando five years ago (and similar to my experiences for a quarter century in Venice, FL). Each time television news programs show long lines, yet on Election Day I walk straight in and vote. Why? Until this week I hadn't stopped to analyze the problem. But when I did . . .
On Election Day 2012, less than five miles east and west of where I voted, students at the University of Central Florida and voters in the predominantly African-American Pine Hills communities waited in line for hours and hours and hours. Anyone in line when the polls closed at seven o'clock was allowed to vote. Which meant that some people were still voting when the vote-count began and it became apparent just how close the Florida race was going to be. The television news showed people in line keeping in touch through their smart phones and determined to wait to vote, no matter how long it took, because they could see their vote was really going to matter.
I, along with the rest of Florida (except for the poor souls still in line), sat in front of my TV and watched with avid interest as state after state was "called" by the experts for Obama or Romney. The Florida count was 50-50, 50-49, 49-50, see-sawing back and forth between the candidates. The Electoral College votes mounted. Florida was going to do it, I was sure. We were going to be the decisive state. Wow!
But - what? Ohio - in a later time zone - got their votes counted before Florida. New Mexico, Colorado - way west of Florida - got their votes in. The Presidential election was essentially over, Obama giving his victory speech, and Florida's votes weren't counted yet. Romney conceded - and Florida's votes weren't counted yet. The entire "voting map" was colored in with red and blue states, except Florida which was a sickly blue on some maps and yellow on others.
For FOUR DAYS! Yes, our votes did count, but it didn't seem like it. It seemed as if all those determined voters stuck it out in line for nothing. Because on election night, their votes were not counted as red or blue by the news media. The State of Florida, once again the laughingstock of the nation.
Why? The following is my opinion, but, providentially, it was borne out by a column in Sunday's Orlando Sentinel, so I don't think I'm too far out of line. It would seem that the Florida Legislature, far too full of people with their own agendas rather than people concerned about good government for the State of Florida, not only tried to mess with the Florida Constitution and State Supreme Court, they were determined to make it as difficult as possible for voters in certain districts to make themselves heard. I, who vote at a country club, had everything made easy. Students, blacks and Hispanics - who tend to vote for the more liberal candidates - had everything made as difficult as possible to cast their votes.
One of the rays of hope in all this is that it appears the man scheduled to be the next Speaker of the Florida House was voted out of office. (A recount is in the works as the vote difference is about 123 votes - yet more proof that every vote counts.) The Supreme Court judges the Legislature wanted to oust were retained by the voters. Most of the ridiculous and convoluted amendments to the Florida Constitution were voted down. Which means . . .
You might be able to fool voters once, but not twice. Common sense ruled. Wow, special-interest politicians, I guess we voters are smarter than you thought we were.
Is there any hope of fixing the Florida election system? I'm not optimistic, since it isn't just the present administration which has manipulated the system. But no one likes to have egg on his/her face. Young, old, Republican, Democrat, Independent. It's EMBARRASSING. Not just the United States, but the whole world sees Florida as a backwater swamp that can't even get its votes counted until four days after the elections. And if we go back to those hanging chads, where a political nobody from Florida was allowed to decide the outcome of a national Presidential election . . . Ah, well, don't get me started on that!
So perhaps the politicians in Tallahassee will be forced to do something about election reform at long last. Forced to create a more equitable system of polling stations. Forced to make fair rules and stick to them so the various Supervisors of Elections aren't left tearing their hair and wondering how they can make their way through the morass of Legislative obstacles. (Is that the shadow of Jim Crow I see?)
I've lived and voted in Florida for thirty years. And most people I know are really trying to do the right thing, to vote for people they believe will do their best for Florida. So how have we gotten ourselves into this untenable situation? I guess we're just going to have to be smarter, more discriminating. Pay more attention to who's going to Tallahassee and not just who's going to Washington.
I was planning to tell a couple of election horror stories that happened here in Orlando, but I've decided they don't fit in this post. I may write about them at another time or I may be able to swallow my indignation, as the losing half of the electorate must, if we are to function as a country again, not two separate belief systems with a chasm between. I'm old enough to remember when this country "worked," when we all pulled together, finding reasonable compromises when necessary, to make it great. We need to find our way back.
No, we must find our way back - so we can move forward!
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