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Published on: News

Voting Access is Personal

published on: March 22, 2021

On March 22, I spoke in opposition to PIE5, a rollback of voting rights and access. As I was thinking through my remarks, I started going through the bill section by section and discussing the many ways it is a deliberate mess of bureaucracy designed to bog down the system and make it harder for a voter to cast their ballot. But I decided against it and instead focused on why this bad bill makes me so angry: my mother.

My mother’s name is Carol-Ann Webber. In about 2002, she was diagnosed with Lupus and Rheumatoid Arthritis. Lupus is an autoimmune disease that occurs when your body’s immune system attacks your own tissues and organs and can cause extreme inflammation that affects many different parts of the body. As she aged and the disease progressed, lupus, coupled with rheumatoid arthritis, would manifest itself in some horrifying ways. But one common inflammation was in her hands, where, out of nowhere, her knuckles would swell and she would be barely unable to hold a pen or the remote control for the tv for a day or two and then it would be back to normal. This went on for quite some time, but, soon enough, the days where the only problem was that she couldn’t flip around on TV or sign her name became the good days. Soon, she would be bedridden for a week at a time as lupus slowly destroyed her body. Not wanting to worry me, she never told me when she was most sick. And I lived here up in Tallahassee at that point, so it’s not like I could just go visit her at her house in Broward whenever I wanted. That’s a 7-hour ride on a good day. Thankfully she had friends, neighbors, and a wonderful nurse that would come by to check on her.

My mother was obsessed with politics and elections. I remember how ecstatic she was when her ballot came in the mail in October of 2008 – I’ll never forget it. My mother, a lifelong Republican, called me and we talked about how amazing it was that Americans had the opportunity to vote for the first Black President of the United States and that she thought that Joe Biden was handsome. She filled out the ballot with me on the phone. Of course, she lived in one of those classic South Florida townhouse/condo communities so the mailbox was actually pretty far away on the other side of the pool area. So, I asked her who was going to deliver it for her, considering she could barely get out of bed, and she said her neighbor or maybe the nurse was just going to bring it to the Supervisor’s office the next day. And her vote counted, I checked. 

If this bill you are voting on today was law then, this story would likely have been impossible. I was her only immediate family member and I lived 7 hours away. I am an only child and my mother was single (remember Joe Biden was married), she had no immediate family or even blood relatives in the state besides me. This bill would make it illegal for my mom’s neighbor – someone she knew and lived next door to for years – to drop off her ballot. And, even if the ballot somehow got to the Supervisor’s office, this bill limits signature verification to only the most recent version. What if the most recent version was on one of my mother’s bad hand days? Or what if the scan of her signature that was on file was super poor quality and hard to decipher? This bill would make it so the Supervisor cannot look through the file at multiple previous signatures to try to find a match and the lupus-induced sloppy cursive of my mother’s name would be all they had.  Maybe the SOE would accept it, maybe they wouldn’t. I’m not sure, but I do know this bill would prohibit them from using a previous resource from a better time in her life, when her hand wasn’t inflamed and her life was normal. 

The 2008 Election was my mom’s last election. She was actually in the hospital on Election Day and passed away just a few days later. I don’t think she ever knew who won. But her vote counted and thankfully the curing process wasn’t needed, she would have been really hard to reach. 

I mention this story because Florida has many residents who are in similar situations. Mothers and grandmothers who live alone, with no immediate family nearby, are aging or possibly suffering from a debilitating disease that makes routine tasks like signing your name or simply dropping off an envelope at a dropbox major efforts. And while this bill is full of all sorts of problems that make it harder for voters to vote, I’m thinking of my mother and the thousands of others just like her, who would likely be disenfranchised by this legislation.

Voting shouldn’t be a gotcha game. Legislators should be working to make voting easier and safer for all Floridians – not harder. Please take action immediately to ask your lawmakers to oppose this bad bill. 

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