In an early example of the chilling impact that the Florida GOP’s new Voter Suppression law can have, a dedicated high school Civics teacher in Volusia County may now be facing thousands of dollars in fines.
Jill Cicciarelli was trying to get her New Smyrna Beach High School students’ year off to a dynamic start, with an exercise of Democracy in Action – helping the 17-year-olds through the process of pre-registering to vote.
But Ms. Cicciarelli, along with almost everybody else in Florida, was unaware of a brand new set of vote-blocking rules, motivated by partisan political gamesmanship and forced into law by state GOP leaders like House Speaker Dean Cannon, Senate President Mike Haridopolos, and Governor Rick Scott. Other party leaders in waiting like Rep. Will Weatherford and Sen. Don Gaetz joined them in targeting traditional areas of strength for the Florida Democratic Party.
As described recently in this space, the Republican Party of Florida has followed the lead of the national GOP and put plenty of time and money into voter suppression efforts for many years now. But leading up to what could be a turning point election in 2012, they’ve upped the ante in a dangerously high stakes game of political poker.
First, they took the wildly successful two-week long Early Voting period leading up to Election Day, and cut it by almost half, down to eight days. Then, in an effort to make it as hard as possible for dominantly Democratic Party community-based & college voter registration drives to take place, the new law requires that anyone mounting a drive must first pre-register with the state; and all new registration forms must be turned in within 48 hours of being signed.
All Jill Cicciarelli wanted was to help her students feel what she describes as the “big thrill” she felt in the 1990s, when as a student at Florida State University, she first registered to vote. In the process, she has apparently run afoul of two of the Republican Party of Florida’s new rules; and her students have learned an unintended but important lesson about Voter Suppression.
When word of all this reached the local Supervisor of Elections, Ann McFall, she was compelled by law to report the incident to the state, as a potential violation. And she felt terrible about that, taking the side of the teacher, the school, and the sanctity of our American Voting Rights.
“This isn’t someone who was going to commit fraud, she was doing a good thing. New Smyrna Beach High School was doing a good thing…”It’s bizarre…I haven’t found one person who likes this law.”
Given an extra minute or two to think about that, chances are the Supervisor would have figured out just who it is that likes this new law.
While we can all understand the political impulse of any political party in power to do all it can to stay in power; there’s no reason on earth why we who put them in power should allow them to stay there under false pretenses. Since when do our political opinions and party affiliations come before our love of Democracy, and our commitment to Fairness?
Talk about a non-partisan message; here’s what Jill Cicciarelli says motivated her to pre-register her students:
“I just want them to be participating in our democracy…The more participation we have, the stronger our democracy will be.”
If you agree, consider backing her up with emails, phone calls, Letters To Editors – and participation in upcoming protest rallies. If we don’t stand up and fight for all our Voting Rights, fair and square, then we have nobody to blame but ourselves for losing other essential rights, one by one by one.