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Florida Early Voting Results: Republican Voter Suppression Efforts Fail to Curtail Turnout

Update: This article is the latest in a series on voter suppression activity in 2012. The other articles in the series include: "Hurricane Sandy: Add Storm to a Growing List of Voter Suppression Efforts in Pennsylvania," "How Voter Suppression Endangers our Democratic Process", "Voter Suppression Laws Overturned in Battleground States: a Win for the American People, and Obama" and "Presidential Polls: Obama Poised to Win, But This is How Republicans Will Snatch the Election."

Going into Election Day, enthusiasm is so high in the swing states of Ohio and Florida that early voters waited in line up to 4 hours — reported the Huffington Post. Republican-led efforts to suppress voter turnout by curtailing early voting hours have resulted in confusion and extended waiting periods for voters all across the nation (but most egregiously in the battleground states of Florida and Ohio). Voter rights advocates had fought the voter suppression efforts of the Republicans in these states and had succeeded in having early voting restored, but the Republican Governor and Secretary of State of Ohio and Florida still severely reduced early voting hours.

Florida’s Republican Governor Rick Scott cut the number of early voting days from 14 to eight, except in the five counties covered by the Voting Rights Act. Those counties continued to have 12 days of early voting. Scott also eliminated early voting on the Sunday before the election, a heavy voting day for minorities. In 2008, 33.2% of Floridians who voted on that Sunday were black, while 23.6% were Hispanic, reported ThinkProgress.

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Scott’s efforts have led to chaos as Floridians flocked to the polls and waited in line for up to 4 hours during the early voting period. In some cases polling stations had to close because they could not handle the load, and then were re-opened when additional staff arrived to assist with the balloting. Some sites were forced to extend their hours into the early morning in order to meet the demand.

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A peaceful demonstration spontaneously erupted when a polling place in Miami-Dade County was temporarily closed with hundreds of people on line. The early voters began chanting “Let Us Vote” and refused to leave the line until the doors were re-opened according to the Miami Herald.

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Scott refused to use his executive power to extend voting hours to accommodate the throngs of voters potentially disenfranchised by his failure to provide adequate infrastructure to support the expected turnout. In the past, former Republican Governors Charlie Crist and Jeb Bush had responded to voter turnout and used their emergency executive powers to support high early voter turnout. Scott was forced to do his civic duty and extend Sunday voting by court order after the state Democratic Party sued the Governor and the state. A clip of disgruntled voters including an explanation by an elected official explaining that the state was not prepared to handle the volume of early voters can be found here.

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The Nation’s Ari Berman reported that at least 1,000, people were seen waiting in line to vote in Cleveland, Ohio and he suspected that the turnout will easily exceed the 2008 level.

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The Huffington Post was on site when Obama campaign volunteers arrived with 50 pizzas to distribute to the early voters who were waiting in line in the 41-degree weather. Volunteers also distributed chips and coffee as voters waited in line. The Cleveland Plain Dealer reported that the lines stretched for blocks in multiple locations across the states as voters waited patiently to cast their ballots.

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On Sunday, in Ohio, the polling stations were open from 1:00 p.m. to 5:00 p.m. “In Cleveland, more than 2,500 people braved the cold in a line that stretched two blocks, hundreds of people were still in line at 4:30 p.m. in Akron, and were waiting on average two hours to vote. In Painesville, about 200 people were in line in the early afternoon and voting was taking about two hours. More than 3,700 people voted in Franklin County, according to Ben Piscitelli, public information officer for the board of elections in Columbus” noted the Dealer.

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The long waiting lines are directly attributable to the voter suppression efforts of Republican Secretary of State John Husted. Husted had attempted to end early voting hours for the majority of Ohioans but that effort was overruled by the federal courts. Husted then tried to severely reduce the hours of availability for early voting only to be summoned by the court for attempting to circumvent the court ruling. Husted blatantly defied the court’s admonition and reduced early voting hour availability in the most populous portions of the state, including Cleveland, which tend to be Democratic strongholds.

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Florida Governor Rick Scott’s efforts to suppress minority voter turnout by eliminating pre-Election Day Sunday voting, were not duplicated in Ohio. "Soul to the Polls,” a non-partisan movement that encourages and assists minority voters, primarily African-American, to vote after or before church on Sunday was active in Ohio. The Plain Dealer reported “Churches across the state joined the Obama campaign in offering vans and caravans to get people to the polls.” Grammy Award winning R&B singer John Legend joined in the effort to get out the vote in Cleveland.

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Republican elected officials claim that they were unprepared for the high turnout ring hollow to voter rights advocates. After the Democratic success with early voting in 2008, the Republican National Committee has made an intense, organized effort to increase early voting particularly in the battleground states. ABC News reported that the RNC launched a program “GOTV” an improved get out the vote campaign to encourage early voter turnout. Republicans planned to “amp up their game” and increase “the number of contacts from volunteers, mail and phone calls during the early vote and absentee period” according to ABC.

Former Republican Governor Charlie Crist was asked by the Huffington Post did he believe that the Republican Party was engaged in voter suppression, Crist replied, “It's certainly not voter encouragement.”

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