It would be easier to believe that Republican lawmakers intend to fix the problems that corrupted Florida’s last election if Florida’s last election had actually been corrupted.
It would be easier to believe their meddling with the electoral process was unsullied by racist motives if the legislation wasn’t sponsored by Dennis Baxley.
Sen. Baxley has a history.
But first: the 2020 election. Florida defied its ignominious reputation for mucking up elections. No long lines. No delayed vote computations. No phantom ballots. No hanging chads. No dispute over which presidential candidate carried the state. None of the chaos that had previously made “Florida election” a recurring punchline on late night TV. Gov. DeSantis bragged on Twitter that our election was “a model for the rest of the nation to follow.”
When Donald Trump railed about the reliability of mail-in ballots, he didn’t mention Florida, although 4.8 million of the state’s 11 million voters — heeding CDC warnings to avoid crowds — mailed their ballots or used the handy drop-off boxes at early voting sites. Trump himself voted absentee in the Florida primary.
Of course, he carried Florida, which, to Trump, was the lone determinant of a clean election.
Nonetheless, Republicans, led by Sen. Baxley, are adding a huge dollop of inconvenience to Florida’s elections. The majority party is pushing legislation that would ban drop-off boxes, require voters to re-apply for absentee ballots ahead of each general election and limit who can collect and deliver completed ballots to election offices.
That 680,000 more Democrats than Republicans voted absentee last November has nothing to do with this, Baxley insists. The Ocala undertaker, however, can cite no transgressions that justify his legislation. “The challenge is that you don’t know what you don’t know,” he said.
What Floridians do know is that the non-partisan League of Women Voters said Baxley’s legislation “makes absolutely no sense unless you’re looking for ways to suppress the vote.”
Leon County Supervisor of Elections Mark Earley testified before a Senate committee that he and his fellow election supervisors, Republicans and Democrats alike, “are against this bill, vehemently.” Broward elections supervisor Joe Scott told the Sun Sentinel that Baxley’s legislation “amounted to massive voter suppression.”
We also know that attaching Dennis Baxley’s name to legislation ought to provoke a wariness among Hispanics and Blacks, key constituencies in the Democratic Party coalition. They wonder about his longtime association with the Sons of Confederate Veterans, and his fervent defense of Confederate flags and Confederate war memorials. In 2008, he objected when the word “darkeys” was removed from the lyrics of Florida’s anachronistic state song, “Old Folks At Home.” He complained, “It just seems in this age of multiculturalism we can celebrate everyone’s culture but mine.″
In 2013, Baxley thwarted a proposed memorial at Olustee Battlefield Historic State Park for the Union soldiers killed in Florida’s bloodiest Civil War encounter. (Perhaps, his opposition had something to do with the aftermath of the battle, when rebel soldiers systematically executed wounded Black soldiers left behind after the Union retreat.)
In 2017, Baxley used his leadership position in the Senate to kill a proposed memorial at the Capitol for victims of slavery. (The measure passed the following year.)
Two years ago, he told WLRN Public Radio that he opposed abortion in part because it reduced the birthrate among citizens of European decent, while immigrants, who “don’t wish to assimilate into society” were busy cranking out babies.
In 2019, he was the only state legislator who voted against removing the name of an arch-segregationist state Supreme Court justice from a law building at Florida State University.
Easy to understand why Blacks, a key constituency in the Florida Democratic Party coalition, might doubt that Baxley cares about their rights.
Not that Florida Republicans are alone in their campaign to tamp down voter turnout. The Brennan Center for Justice reports that Florida is among 43 states where Republican lawmakers are pushing legislation – at least 250 bills – that would add new restrictions to voting, particularly vote-by-mail procedures. The party is gambling, apparently, that their voter suppression tactics will discourage more Democrats, especially Black Democrats, than Republicans.
Florida has not joined other states in the Old Confederacy – not yet anyway – where Republicans are also contriving to eliminate early voting on the last Sunday before the general election — Souls to the Polls Day, when Black churches bus their congregants to voting sites.
Back when segregationists ruled the South, it was the southern Democrats, the infamous Dixiecrats, who conspired to keep minorities from voting. In the aftermath of the 2020 election, Dennis Baxley’s old buddy Jim Crow has found a home in the Republican Party.