I tried to vote early on Saturday, but there were two-hour lines at the only open polling station in South Beach. So I gave up. I tried again Monday, but the wait was still an hour and a half. So I decided to come back Tuesday. It took 45 minutes in line, plus 15 minutes wading through 10 pages of intentionally incomprehensible ballot questions, but I voted. If I didn’t have such a flexible work schedule—and if I didn’t write about public policy for a living—maybe I wouldn’t have.
This is why Governor Rick Scott and Florida’s Republican legislature eliminated nearly half of our state’s early voting days this year: They don’t want to make it easier for Floridians to vote, because high turnout favors Democrats. As I wrote in the magazine last week, federal judges and local election officials have blocked most of the GOP’s efforts to make voting harder across the nation, from voter-ID restrictions to convoluted registration rules to new limits on early voting.
But they haven’t blocked everything, and in a close election, minor inconveniences could make a major difference.
In Florida, for example, Scott’s massive campaign to purge the state’s voter rolls flopped, because 99.9% of the 182,000 voters on his purge list turned out to be legit. And a federal judge struck down a draconian Republican law that made it nearly impossible for nonprofits to register new voters. But that law was on the books for 10 months, setting back registration efforts in the state. And while the first few days of early voting in Florida have seen record turnout, it’s unlikely that 2012’s eight days will attract as many early votes as 2008’s 15 days. The GOP has killed voting on the last weekend before the election, including the Sunday that black churches have used to move “Souls to the Polls.” Judging from the scene at Miami Beach City Hall, that could mean chaos on Election Day, and not all Floridians have jobs that allow them to take an extended break to vote.
I suspect that Obama will lose Florida and win the election anyway. But it’s interesting to see that the polls show him winning the state among registered voters and losing among likely voters. It’s a cliché to say that the election will come down to turnout—all elections come down to turnout—but if Obama’s voters got to the polls, he would win. It’s not a coincidence that in a swing state that was decided by a few hundred votes not that long ago, Republicans have made it harder to get to the polls.