Voting is Easy?


Voting is easy…at least that’s the refrain we repeated in 2012 to Floridians who faced a new voting climate that was muddled with obstacles. In 2011, the Florida legislature—alongside other Republican-led state bodies throughout the country—passed numerous changes to the process of voting, including restrictions for registering voters, reduced days of early voting and stricter ID requirements, noting the critical need to combat voter fraud, despite having little to no evidence of it being a problem. Additionally, as the months before the election turned into weeks, lists of supposed non-citizens and felons who were not eligible to vote surfaced, which upon investigation turned out to be full of errors.

Leading up to November, voting in Florida was not looking all that easy, which I witnessed first-hand when I spent the last two months of the Presidential campaign in Central Florida, a region that’s become home to many immigrants—predominantly Hispanic—who probably assumed that moving to the United States meant leaving behind inefficient voting systems.

For hundreds of years, immigrants have left the comforts of a known land and language in pursuit of better opportunities and a just government where all citizens have the right to participate in electing their leaders. But, as a first generation American who was just shy of 18 in 2000 and then spent two months in Florida in 2012, the democratic process I have witnessed since coming of age leaves much to be desired.

In 2000, ballots and hanging chads unexpectedly made their way into the curriculum of my high school government class. Twelve years later, Florida ballots consumed most of my waking hours as Election Day approached. In 2012, the Florida legislature decided it was appropriate to include 11 amendments—most at least a paragraph long of legalese, since the legislature exempted themselves from the 75 word maximum imposed on citizen initiatives—on the November ballot, resulting in ballots that were up to twelve pages in parts of Florida. We feared that these long ballots would jam up machines and cause long lines that would deter voters. I spent weeks meeting with the Supervisor of Elections of my counties to assess what plans they had in place to combat machine malfunctions and long lines. While the political leanings of the supervisors differed, almost all were frustrated by the new ballot and its inevitable detrimental effect on access and efficiency.

Further, this extraordinarily long ballot was introduced the same year the legislature decided to reduce the days of early voting from fourteen to eight. Even during early voting, it was typical for voters in my counties to wait in line for over an hour to cast their ballot. On the last day of early voting, one of my polling sites closed down for four hours due to a suspicious package that someone spotted mid-morning under a tree. While we were able to get the county to open up that site for four hours of voting the next day, there were voters who had already waited in line for over an hour when the site was shut down. They did not have the opportunity to vote until almost 5 PM. While one cannot prevent the appearance of suspicious packages, had early voting not been reduced nearly in half, sites would not have been as congested and not as many people would have been affected.

Post-election analysis estimates that as many as 49,000 voters in central Florida left the polls on Election Day without voting, while in South Florida, although the polls closed at 7 PM, voters were still in line when President Obama delivered victory remarks shortly after midnight. While the determination of these individuals to exercise a right that is the fundamental cornerstone of our democracy no matter the inconvenience is remarkable, it is also a disappointment that a willingness to stand in line for hours—and the gift of time—was a criteria for voting in 2012.

In 2012, voting appeared to transform from a fundamental right to a privilege subject to partisan debate. The rhetoric from the right consistently espoused the need to prevent voter fraud, while the left focused on easing restrictions and expanding access, with both sides convinced that their way was the only way to ensure a just election process. In high school you learn that as a United States citizen it is your duty to vote. This American privilege is framed as a responsibility, one that we are to accept and exercise when called upon every election cycle. But for us to keep our end of the bargain, our government needs to keep theirs and make voting a little bit easier for its citizens. Otherwise, we risk compromising our fullest attainment of the American dream.

Monica Fuentes served as the Regional Voter Protection Director in East Central Florida for Organizing for America at the end of the 2012 campaign cycle.