Monday, August 07, 2006

How to Avoid Those "Hanging Chads Ivans"

"People need to vote. They need to go out and cast a ballot. They shouldn’t get discouraged. They should stay engaged here. What politicians want is for people to stay home, so people need to get out and vote."

-- George Washington Univ. Law Professor Spencer Overton, author of Stealing America: The New Politics of Voter Suppression, in an NPR inteview, July 5, 2006
Today is the last day to register for voting in the September 5, 2006 Florida state and local primary elections. New Florida residents or newly-eligible voters who will be 18 by election day should register by the close of business today.

(For those who miss it, you still can register at any time up through October 10 for the November 7 general election.)

But what about existing registered voters who have moved or been displaced by hurricanes or other calamities over the last two years? If you're not yet back in your home, where can you vote?

Election officials have said little about this publicly . It probably isn't yet on To-do list for most voters, either. But there are several hundred Pensacola Beach voters who aren't yet back in their homes.

Perhaps thousands, or even tens of thousands, are in the same fix around Florida, owing to delays in insurance settlements, litigation over the Mierzwa doctrine, permitting problems, the sudden unavailability of builder's insurance for home construction in flood zones, etc. etc. A substantial number of registered voters in Florida are not presently hanging their hat at the address shown on the voter rolls.

In these days of bitter partisanship, despicable voter suppression campaigns, and election-day dirty tricks, like those examples in Florida documented by the Florida League of Conservation Voters, how can a normal person avoid challenges, unpleasantness, or worse, when trying to exercise the franchise? More to the point, where and how should you vote?

The first thing: be sure you're registered. The state election division has a helpful F.A.Q. that will answer most of registration questions. You can also download a registration-by-mail form there.

For temporarily displaced residents, the central question well may be "what is my official 'residency'?" It's only a slight exaggeration to answer, "it's where your heart is." As a number of court and administrative rulings over the decades reiterate:
The concept of "residency" or "domicile" is a subjective one to the extent that it invokes the intent of the individual. The Supreme Court of Florida has --
". . .consistently held that where a good faith intention is coupled with an actual removal evidenced by positive overt acts, then the change of residence is accomplished and becomes effective. This is so because legal residence consists of the concurrence of both fact and intention. The bona fides of the intention is a highly significant factor."
The key element is the intent of the individual. Permanent residence is wherever a person mentally intends it to be and which can be factually supported."

-- Division of Elections Ruling No. 78-27 (June 2, 1978)
So, if you were registered on Pensacola Beach in past years but find yourself still unable to live in your beach home, following the logic of Florida's residency laws you ought to be able to cast your vote in person on the beach at the official polling place in the usual manner. At least, so Escambia County Election Supervisor David Stafford told us by telephone today.

For the squeamish or anyone else who wants the security of knowing their vote counts without risking Election Day dirty tricks or suppression challenges, Stafford recommends casting an Absentee ballot or using the Early voting system. Absentee ballots are available on-line. They also can be faxed or mailed, upon request.

Three locations have been designated "early election" sites for Escambia County voters:
  • Elections Main Office
    213 Palafox Place 2nd Floor
  • Southwest Branch Library
    12248 Gulf Beach Highway
  • Lucia M. Tryon Branch Library
    5740 North 9th Avenue
Early voting for the primary begins Monday, August 21 and ends 5:00 p.m., Saturday, Sept. 2.
Voters who want to vote early should remember to bring a photo and signature identification with them.

As for us, we're looking forward to voting in person. On Pensacola Beach, election day is another opportunity for friends to bump into each other, swap gossip, and complain about island government. And this year, for the first time ever according to county election officials, the official beach polling place will be inside the Santa Rosa Island Authority building at 1 Via de Luna.

Now, that ought to be interesting, indeed.

Related Links
Florida Division of Elections

Escambia County Election Supervisor

Santa Rosa County Election Supervisor

Challenging Barriers to Registration in Florida

Voting Technology Initiation, Brennan Center for Justice

Recommendations on Implementation of the 'Help America Vote Act.' (pdf file)

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