From now until Oct. 9, Students for Barack Obama can be heard in Hamilton “Ham” Center at each lunch and dinner, stating a polite inquisition to would-be diners: “Hey, are you registered to vote?”
Second-year Catherine Turner, a member of Students for Barack Obama, described New College students’ general response to such a question. “We [register] a lot of people here, more than we got at [the University of Florida.]” Turner explained that when registering voters in her hometown of Gainesville, on the UF campus over the summer, they were able to register about three people a day.
“I think a lot of people here know the people doing voter registration personally, so they can’t blow you off as easily,” she said of the groups successful efforts at NCF. Currently, NCF ranks in the top three in the total percent of the student body who are registered to vote among other universities in Florida. The group said they registered 200 NCF students just in the first couple weeks.
“So I think part of it is a small-school, friendly atmosphere. I also think a lot of New College students care about politics.” Turner said that while there is mostly political apathy at NCF, voting is something students can easily do. “I think that when someone is in your face saying ‘Come vote, we’ll make it easy for you,’ most people want to.“
I think that getting out the vote is the most important things that anyone can do in volunteering politically,” Turner noted. “I think its more important and more effective than any amount of phone banking to be honest.” She said the group is not just trying to registrar democrats, since their “get out the vote” effort is non-partisan and separate from their Obama endorsement. She continued, “We want everyone to register to vote, I think it’s a really important civil duty.”
Despite a relatively easy registration process for students, there are still some technicalities that those who register with their New College addresses, or those changing their addresses to Sarasota, must be aware of. One such snafu is that there is a difference between a person’s on-campus “mailing address” and “living address.” In such case, a dorm resident does not live at 5800 Bayshore Rd, but rather, in their dorm residence (see chart.)
Third year Alexander Nicoleau claimed that his efforts to establish residency on campus have been far more difficult than expected.
“It’s just been a hassle for me,” Nicoleau lamented. He explained that in a letter from the Sarasota County Supervisor of Elections office he was told that, because of redistricting, he had to resubmit his address information. Nicoleau explained that while the issue was seemingly minor, “It’s really been a pain in the ass because I’ve been trying to get my voter registration information straight since the end of last year. This is my second time trying to get it done.”
Nicoleau said that he had trepidations about whether his situation was a discrimination issue based on his self–identified race designation as “African American/Black.” He cited some attempted voter purges in the past two presidential election cycles in Florida in which lawmakers in 2004 disproportionally claimed African Americans to be convicted felons, and in the current election cycke with many citizens claimed to be non-legal residents by the State of Florida.
In July, the Department of Homeland Security granted Florida election officials access to a database of noncitizen residents for use in Republican-backed efforts to remove people who are not US citizens from voter registration rolls. Republican administrations in several states, including Arizona and Colorado have sought such measures, which they say serve to restrict voter fraud.
However, opponents of the effort say that the Systematic Alien Verification for Entitlements, or SAVE, database is not meant to serve for voter purge lists, and may contain out-dated immigration status information of many on the list. The New York Times reported in July that for this reason, opponents say the actions lead to discrimination of minorities.
Last Wednesday, the State of Florida reported that it had identified 207 cases of non-citizen voter fraud in the state, or, .002 percent of the 11.5 million registered voters. Activists say that such efforts taken by the state to condemn voter fraud have done more harm than good, since the numbers show that voter fraud is in fact not a rampant problem.
Another such effort under scrutiny by civil rights and activist organizations is Florida’s House Bill (HB) 1355, which was passed and signed into law by Gov. Scott during the 2011 legislative session.
HB 1355’s provisions included placing new reporting requirements on third-party voter registration organizations, in which entities and organizations outside of political party affiliation would be subject to fines if they do not turn in completed voter registration forms within 48 hours. Also, groups must submit the names and addresses of “registration agents” and requires anyone who is registering voters to swear an oath to uphold state election laws. In addition, the law prohibits voters who live outside the county in which they are registered from changing their address at the polls and requires that these voters cast a provisional, or absentee ballot.
Another controversial provision was shortening the number of early voting days, from 14 to 8. This shortening also excludes early voting for the Sunday before the Tuesday Election.
Rev. Charles Mackenzie of the Rainbow PUSH Coalition (RPC), an organization spearheaded by Rev. Jesse Jackson as a “multi-racial, multi-issue, progressive, international membership organization fighting for social change,” said that such legislation directly targets against the African American and Latino population, and is reminiscent of Jim Crow era voter suppression.
“Groups such as the African American and Hispanic population vote on certain days. The day in particular during the last presidential cycle that you had a really large segment of the [those groups] voting was the last Sunday before the election,” Mackenzie told the Tangent over the phone. The Reverend noted that this was no coincidence: “A lot of that has to due with the fact that the clergy of the church community very effectively linked civic participation with the church community. African Americans, and Hispanics to a great extent, have shaped their culture around their religious experience. To link the worship experience with the church leadership to civic participation I think was a brilliant idea, and that’s what drove these massive numbers to the polls that last Sunday before the election.”
He continued, ”I think the attempt to restrict [voting on Sunday] is a partisan driven attempt . . . and the ultimate aim is to shave off enough percent of the African American and Hispanic vote that might be sympathetic to a particular candidate [in order] to skew the outcome of the election.”
Concerning provisional ballots, a 2009 study by the Pew Research Center found that of total absentee ballots cast in the general election, less than 50 percent were counted nationwide. Florida fell into the “45% -59% counted” category, along with Mississippi, Georgia, North Carolina and 7 other Eastern seaboard states.
In Florida, while counties like Hillsborough and Duval experienced high relative percents of counted ballots – 59% and 81% respectively – Miami-Dade (34%) and Broward (6%) counties did not fair as well.
Because of measures affecting provisional ballots, ID requirements at the polls, and address changes, Mackenzie noted, students and the elderly population are not to be counted out of those effected by voter suppression laws. “Rev. Jackson said that we cannot allow the retrogressive forces to racialize this issue because it impacts seniors and it impacts students,” he said. “And there are more white seniors and students than there are black and brown.”
Upon passage of HB 1355, voter registration and civil rights groups sought redemption from the restrictive measures. The League of Women Voters (LWV), as one such third party entity affected by the law, sued the State of Florida. On May 31 of this year, Judge Robert Hinkle of the Federal District Court for the Northern District of Florida blocked enforcement of many key provisions of the law that the League claimed were un-constitutional.
As of June, the LWV is back in the state after having virtually been pushed out. “Now our concern is twofold,” Millie Headdy, of the Sarasota County LWV, explained. “We are hoping people can vote, and that there is no voter suppression.”
In August, the fight against voter repression continued at the Republican National Convention in Tampa. The Florida Consumer Action Network (FCAN,) a consumer advocacy group headquartered in Tampa, along with several other organizations, organized the Rally Against Voter Suppression. Several New College Students attended the event. Third-year Nicholas “Niko” Segal-Wright said, while he doesn’t experience the same sort of repression that undocumented or poor people face, he experiences a more generic form.
“There’s other, more abstract and less concrete ways of voter suppression that I have experienced, and that’s that I can’t afford a lobbyist,” Segal-Wright explained. “I can go up to a poll booth, but I can’t afford a lobbyist. I also am subject to massive disinformation that makes it very hard to vote intelligently.”
Overall, the rally emphasized that those able to vote should exercise such a right. Rev. Mackenzie, an organizer of the rally, reiterated this sentiment. “Voter registration is important because voting is so intrinsic in the democratic process. Political participation shapes the quality of our lives,” he noted. “If you don’t vote you are powerless in our society. Politicians pay attention to people who vote.”
This year marks the 92nd anniversary of women’s suffrage and Mackenzie emphasized that voting is particularly important among minorities and women, noting that their rights to vote came with sacrifice. He remarked that this sacrifice has not just come from soldiers fighting overseas, but from decades of active protest by minority groups within the US. The Reverend reasoned the importance of voting, “so in a sense, we have a kind of moral obligation to those who sacrificed to make this right available to all Americans.”