A new Florida law that contributed to long voter lines and caused some to abandon voting altogether was intentionally designed by Florida GOP staff and consultants to inhibit Democratic voters, former GOP officials and current GOP consultants have told The Palm Beach Post.
Republican leaders said in proposing the law that it was meant to save money and fight voter fraud. But a former GOP chairman and former Gov. Charlie Crist, both of whom have been ousted from the party, now say that fraud concerns were advanced only as subterfuge for the law’s main purpose: GOP victory.
Former Republican Party of Florida Chairman Jim Greer says he attended various meetings, beginning in 2009, at which party staffers and consultants pushed for reductions in early voting days and hours.
“The Republican Party, the strategists, the consultants, they firmly believe that early voting is bad for Republican Party candidates,” Greer told The Post. “It’s done for one reason and one reason only. … ‘We’ve got to cut down on early voting because early voting is not good for us,’ ” Greer said he was told by those staffers and consultants.
“They never came in to see me and tell me we had a (voter) fraud issue,” Greer said. “It’s all a marketing ploy.”
Greer is now under indictment, accused of stealing $200,000 from the party through a phony campaign fundraising operation. He, in turn, has sued the party, saying GOP leaders knew what he was doing and voiced no objection.
“Jim Greer has been accused of criminal acts against this organization and anything he says has to be considered in that light,” says Brian Burgess, Florida GOP spokesman since September.
But Greer’s statements about the motivations for the party’s legislative efforts, implemented by a GOP-majority House and Senate in Tallahassee in 2011, are backed by Crist — also now on the outs with the party — and two veteran GOP campaign consultants.
Wayne Bertsch, who handles local and legislative races for Republicans, said he knew targeting Democrats was the goal.
“In the races I was involved in in 2008, when we started seeing the increase of turnout and the turnout operations that the Democrats were doing in early voting, it certainly sent a chill down our spines. And in 2008, it didn’t have the impact that we were afraid of. It got close, but it wasn’t the impact that they had this election cycle,” Bertsch said, referring to the fact that Democrats picked up seven legislative seats in Florida in 2012 despite the early voting limitations.
Another GOP consultant, who did not want to be named, also confirmed that influential consultants to the Republican Party of Florida were intent on beating back Democratic turnout in early voting after 2008.
In 2008 Democrats, especially African-Americans, turned out in unprecedented numbers for President Barack Obama, many of them casting ballots during 14 early voting days. In Palm Beach County, 61.2 percent of all early voting ballots were cast by Democrats that year, compared with 18.7 percent by Republicans.
In 2011 Republicans, who had super majorities in both chambers of the legislature, passed HB 1355, which curtailed early voting days from 14 to eight; greatly proscribed the activities of voter registration organizations like the League of Women Voters; and made it harder for voters who had changed counties since the last election to cast ballots, a move that affected minorities proportionately more than whites. The League and others challenged the law in court, and a federal judge threw out most of the provisions related to voter registration organizations.
Various voter registration organizations, minority coalitions and Democratic office holders are now demanding investigations either by state or federal officials.