Guy Benson

On Tuesday, I posted a condemnation of Democratic National Committee Chairwoman Debbie Wasserman Schultz's (DWS) preposterous and offensive remark that Republicans seek to "literally drag" the country back to the dark days of Jim Crow by enacting tough anti-fraud election laws.  Wasserman Schultz made her incendiary comments during an interview on TV One with Roland Martin, perhaps best known for his regular CNN political commentaries.  After my piece went live, Martin contacted me through Twitter and urged me to watch the full exchange (my analysis of her remarks was largely based upon a Politico write-up).  Although DWS had directed much of her fire at voter ID laws, he said, she also expressed concerns over an additional recent election law, which Martin suggested was more objectionable. I told Martin that I'd look into it, and I have.  Before I proceed with further analysis and reporting, here is the full clip that Martin passed along:
 


First, let me reiterate my strong support for voter ID laws.  They are common-sense, reasonable, and appropriate measures to help ensure that eligible citizens are able to exercise their right to vote, once per election.  They are not, as DWS suggests, tantamount to a poll tax, nor am I persuaded that they discourage or suppress voter participation among certain racial minority populations -- another common charge.  In fact, as I reported in my original piece, a recent case study in Georgia showed that Hispanic and African-American voter turnout actually soared in consecutive elections after a voter identification law was implemented.  Fortunately, the Left's racially-tinged fear-mongering hasn't succeeded; photo ID laws enjoy supermajority support among the American people.

I was, however, interested to learn more about a law passed by the Republican-held Florida legislature and signed by Republican Governor Rick Scott.  Several of the points Martin and Wasserman Schultz raised about the legislation piqued my curiosity.  Here's how the Miami Herald describes the statute, which will impact next year's general election:
 

Gov. Rick Scott has signed HB 1355 making sweeping changes to voting and elections procedures in Florida. Here are the highlights of those changes:

- Early voting is reduced from 15 days to eight days, but the total number of early voting hours will stay at 96; no additional early voting sites.

- Voters who have moved or changed their name since the last election can only update their status at the polls if they have moved within the same county. All others must cast provisional ballots.

- Third-party groups that register new voters must submit forms within 48 hours or face fines of up to $1,000.


The Herald piece also includes this salient fact:
 

Cowles also said fears of voter fraud are unfounded because Florida has a highly accurate and reliable state-run voter registration database. Every voter has a unique identifying number and a voter must show a photo ID before being given a ballot.


In the pursuit of intellectual honesty, I decided to reach out to Governor Scott's office and ask a number of pointed questions about the law he signed last month.  I received a prompt, helpful reply from Scott's Press Secretary, Lane Wright, who referred me to the office of Kurt Browning, Florida's Secretary of State.  Browning spokesman Chris Cate was extremely responsive, offering thorough answers to each of my questions.  I'd encourage readers to watch Roland Martin and DWS discuss the law, review the Herald piece, examine my Q&A with Mr. Cate, and draw their own conclusions about the law's appropriateness and efficacy:
 

GB: What was the thought process behind cutting the early voting window nearly in half [from 15 to 8 days]?

CC:  Early voting is not being cut in half. Early voting was 96 hours under the previous law and it’s 96 hours under the new law for every county that needs it. In actuality, early voting is being made more accessible because working voters now have 12 hours in a day to vote early, instead of only 8. They also have 36 hours of possible voting on the weekend instead of only 16. Meanwhile, rural counties have the flexibility to save taxpayer money because they aren’t being forced to keep polling places open a full 12 hours when the locations aren’t being utilized all 12 hours.


GB: Why does the Governor believe that [a per-ballot fine of up to] $1,000 for third party groups that do not submit new voter registration forms within 48 hours is necessary or appropriate?  Does it concern the Governor that the League of Women Voters has stopped its registration efforts because of this provision, which they view as too stringent?

CC: To clarify your question, the fine per ballot is actually $50. The maximum allowable fine for combined violations in an entire year is $1,000. Also, the amount of the fine remains the same as it was under the previous law. As for the 48 hours, this is a reasonable amount of time to submit voter registrations. It’s also beneficial for voters to know that their registrations are being submitted promptly.


GB: How does the Governor respond to charges that the law disproportionally affects college students and the disabled?

CC: Speaking for the Department of State, the law is applied equally to all Floridians.  (Mr. Wright added his puzzlement over this criticism: "We don't understand how anyone can argue that it will disadvantage any community in Florida, especially college students and the disabled.")


GB: Democrats argue that Florida already has a strong anti-fraud voting system in place, which requires voters to present ID before gaining access to a ballot.  Does the governor agree with this assessment, and if not, why are the new requirements necessary?  Are there specific examples of significant voter fraud in Florida that warranted a major overhaul?

CC: In order to maintain a strong anti-fraud voting system, it’s necessary to be proactive in the fight against fraud. Additionally, the new elections law addresses opportunities for fraud not covered by the previous law. As a whole, it will help ensure our elections are accurate and can continue to be accurate.


Mr. Wright augmented Cate's answer to my final question:
 

On the question on remaining diligent to protect the security of the elections process in Florida, we don’t understand why we would wait until rampant fraud to take steps to ensure fair and legal elections. Banks don’t wait until they’re robbed to install the latest security system.

A recent municipal special election in Jacksonville included nearly 200 votes that were disqualified.  Some votes were cast by convicted felons who did not have their rights restored and others were double votes, people who first voted absentee and then also showed up on election day at their local polling location.


I appreciate Roland Martin's engagement on this topic, as well as the laudable responsiveness of both the Florida Governor and Secretary of State's offices.


Guy Benson

Guy Benson is Townhall.com's Senior Political Editor. Follow him on Twitter @guypbenson.

Author Photo credit: Jensen Sutta Photography