In the cold, competitive (comfortingly predictable) world of election reform, two factions are locked in an epic, endless struggle, and both are positive the guys on the other side of the aisle threaten to undermine our cherished democratic system.
On one side, the shadowy Republicans—or so the Dems would have you believe—ruthlessly disenfranchise the poor, the pigmented, and the felonious. They callously seek to raise identification standards beyond all reason and whittle voting windows to woeful new lows.
On the other, the conniving Democrats—or so the GOP attests—are valiantly protecting nothing more than the madness of an election process riddled with voter fraud. They ignore how administrative inconsistencies have marred our legitimacy and skewed our tallies, how civics teachers run rampantly afoul of state election law, how…
Wait, civics teachers?
In fact, though George Lucas has yet to take up the—ahem—epic struggle of state election law reform for a motion picture, Florida’s recent return to the trenches has produced a casualty worthy of silver screen-caliber sympathy: Jill Cicciarelli.
Jill, who (apparently unaware of new law that makes it unwise to do so) helped some of her high school students register to vote, violated recent regulations that require those assisting registration to file a healthy amount of paperwork and even take an oath. And once the registration forms have been filled out, the documents need to make it to the registrar in two days, down from 10 before the now-infamous HB 1355. While Jill probably won’t face fines, some find her predicament disconcerting, and her plight aptly symbolizes a larger conflict engulfing HB 1355.
In fact, HB 1355 cannot yet be called a “new law,” because it is still under review. Under the Voting Rights Act of 1965, the Department of Justice or the D.C. District Court can review voting law changes for their conformity to the VRA. Lately—as the epic battle wages tirelessly on—the litigious route’s popularity is increasing (graphically so), and Florida is no different. In fact, Florida, having courted both the DoJ and D.C. for review of HB 1355, even filed a complaint against the VRA itself, alleging the preclearance obligation unconstitutional.
Not to be outdone, those opposing the bill (a long, long, list that includes the ACLU and League of Women Voters) sued Florida Governor Rick Scott, but were shot down. Florida is only subject to federal preclearance in five counties, none of which are currently implementing the sections of HB 1355 that have not (yet) been approved.
As if the controversy itself wasn’t enough, Florida is on the clock to get a decision passed down in time to prepare for the presidential preference primary on January 31, 2012.
In Florida—which may have seen some election controversy before—it’s another election, another series of litigation. The battle royale (see, I’m not the only dramatic one!) is more or less the same old story: Republicans allege reducing the window of early voting (while expanding the daily hours) and raising the standards of registration officer conduct will reduce fraud and protect the system. Democrats contend that this functionally disenfranchises minorities who tend to take advantage of early voting and registration drives more than whites.
It seems certain the contest will wage on through the 2012 election and beyond. We can only hope it doesn’t spawn any bad sequels.
John Loughney is a first-year law student at William & Mary.