Ending the Madness: Early Voting for the 2016 Presidential Election in Florida

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For the past few Presidential elections, I’ve been fortunate enough to be able to vote early. In 2008 and 2012, I voted in Illinois, which wasn’t exactly a battleground state in either election and in 2004 I was in North Carolina, long before it became a “purple state.” Thus, with the 2016 Presidential election, I looked to take advantage of early voting once again, but this time it would mean something. My wife and I’s recent move to the state of Florida put us both in a “battleground” state for probably the first time in our lives, something that at least I relish…and perhaps shouldn’t have.

In Florida, there’s a long history of problems with the voting process. Everyone knows about the issues back in the 2000 General Election, where the term “hanging chad” became more than just the name of a Chippendale’s dancer, and lengthy lines at polling places on Election Day have become commonplace. But there is the brutal honesty when it comes to elections overall; a Loyola Law School professor found in a study that, between 2000 and 2014 and in hundreds if not thousands of elections across the United States, there have been 31 TOTAL CASES of voter fraud out of more than one BILLION votes cast. Thus, the bullshit emanating from the mouth of the Republican candidate (and others in places of responsibility) that voter fraud is “rampant” is something I ignored. In fact, it ramped up the reason for both my lovely wife and I to vote early in this election.

There are three ways you can vote in the state of Florida. One is wait until Election Day, which was immediately out for my wife and I. With a young child and work schedules, the potential of standing for hours (remember the lines in the 2008 and 2012 elections in areas) on Election Day was about as welcome as a proctology exam. When it came to voting early, there were two choices available:  going to an early voting precinct or a mail-in vote. I was interested in voting by mail – as it was something that I had never done – so both my wife and I ordered mail-in ballots for the 2016 election.

A funny thing happened on the way to filling out that ballot, however. The state of Florida, Republican Governor Rick Scott and Secretary of State Ken Detzner were chastised by U. S. District Court Judge Mark Walker for THROWING OUT MAIL-IN BALLOTS because signatures that were on file did not match that which were on the ballots. In Florida, if a mail-in ballot isn’t signed, people are given the chance to correct said ballot. By law, the different county election boards have to contact the voter and attempt to get the ballot signed. In the event that signatures didn’t match, however, the ballots were completely tossed out with the voter not informed of the action. Walker’s ruling forced the state to contact people to inform them their ballot wasn’t counted because of the difference. It was just the latest instance of voter disenfranchisement by the GOP in the state (Scott also initially refused to allow for a voter registration extension after Hurricane Matthew hit the state; a federal judge ordered a week’s extension).

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Want more? In Miami two women – at least one with Republican ties – were arrested for violations of voter laws. In one case, a 74-year old woman was arrested for allegedly blatantly marking ballots (if they were left blank) in favor of Republican mayoral candidate Raquel Regalado. In a separate case, a woman hired to register new voters was found to have allegedly fabricated several voter registration forms, including some applications that were submitted for people who were deceased.

Add in the instance of the Republican voter in Iowa who was arrested for voting twice (in an ironic twist, for the GOP nominee) in the Iowa elections (and take a look at her Facebook page…it’s a bit disconcerting) and there was a sudden need to get this shit over with quickly. As such, both my wife and I decided to go to the early voting booths to register our vote for 2016 and its races.

It was a beautiful, sunny Florida day when my wife and I forced our way through the hordes of Trump and Clinton supporters who were physically battling it out on the sidewalk of the library where we were to vote. Upon reaching the doors (and making sure we didn’t get pulled into the carnage behind us), my wife and I reached the entrance. “Trump or Clinton?” the man at the door asked.

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My wife paused in thought for a moment and was whisked away, despite my pleadings and the two guys holding me back from chasing her abductors down. Looking at me, the man asked again, “Trump or Clinton?” I responded with the Democratic nominee and was led into a plush room where I voted quickly…hey, there was a full bar after you fed your ballot into the machine and I was given a draft Yuengling! About 10 minutes later my wife, with a vacant look in her eyes, came out and said “Clinton will win,” despite the fact I knew that wasn’t who she had planned to vote for (hey, it’s a Carville/Matalin thing, don’t judge us!). She had a Hi-C juice box in her hand and said nothing more about what had happened and, with that, we were done with voting for 2016.

Now, if you believed that, you shouldn’t be allowed to vote because of basic stupidity.

The only part that was true was it was a beautiful day in Florida. There was some traffic at the library, but everyone was in a great mood as we entered the polling location. There were no protestors, no “voter watchdogs,” no politicking at all. After coming to the poll worker, my wife and I were questioned about the fact we had requested a mail-in ballot (with my poll worker drilling me a bit harder than my wife’s) and we ensured them that those ballots would be destroyed (and they were – you don’t have a great shredder for nothing).

This is the point where things got a bit strange, however. After I was given the ballot, the poll worker said to me, “Go to the cubicle and fill it out.” Fill it out? I wondered, until I got to the cubicle and saw a black ink pen waiting on the dais. Yes, that’s right…in the 21st century, with the advancements in electronic voting, I was going to fill out a ballot by COLORING IN A CIRCLE like I was taking the SAT!

This is completely unacceptable. Sure, maybe it was a factor that the Hillsborough County Superintendent of Elections, Craig Latimer, didn’t want to roll out the automated machines for the early voting process. Perhaps there were some costs involved in having those machines prepped for the early voting process and it was a money-saving maneuver. Perhaps he believes that the ink and paper written ballots are more than enough for those who are voting early. It sure as hell doesn’t lend credence to voter satisfaction or knowledge that their vote is being accepted, logged and counted as it should be…but I digress.

After completing my end-of-semester final…I mean, my BALLOT FOR THE 2016 ELECTIONS…I then went over to a nice older lady who instructed me to feed it into a machine. That machine didn’t exactly strike confidence either as basically all it did was say that it had passed through the machine. There was no “VOTE COUNTED” display nor was there anything to alert the poll worker that there might have been a problem with registering the vote. The best I could do was accept that the poll worker said the vote was entered and, accepting my little voter sticker, accept her wishes for a “good day” and exit the polling area.

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And that is the way it will go for virtually 150 million U. S. citizens who vote this year. No shenanigans, no “voter fraud,” no “voter watchdogs” sticking their noses into the process.

Yes, this year has provided us a tremendously stressful election. Normally sane people – people that would normally take up for their fellow man, believe in the dream for ALL people in the United States that they can improve their station in life and believe that we are the world’s beacon of light – have suddenly become xenophobic assholes who want to deny everything to everyone. Normally sane people – ones that wouldn’t take any disparaging remarks about women or minorities, going to the edges to fight against such idiotic people and their language – suddenly are misogynous reptiles that toss such beliefs under the bus in the name of “nationalism.” Normally sane people – those that have railed against dictators, strongmen and other such threats to a democratic process – suddenly support a fascist bastard because “he tells it like it is.”

Unfortunately, that is the way this nation has become, fractured and with the break separating even further day by day. We must reverse this process at the end of this election. We should at least TRY to work together, talk sanely about issues and try to find a way to move the country forward. But, as we have already seen, the GOP isn’t exactly looking to do that. Thus, either we must force them to action or vote them out…there’s no other option.

For myself and my lovely wife, the 2016 General Election is over. We’ve placed our votes. Our duty is done and I myself am at peace. I can watch the returns come November 8 and be satisfied that I exercised a special right that U. S. citizens have that other countries do no provide their countrymen and women. I can also be worried of what the future may hold with an electorate that is so separated…it, and I, will be.

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