Obama’s Florida Problem: Get 270

Obama’s Florida Problem: Get 270

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For the President, getting to 270 will be no easy feat.

Still, the stats are in his favor. Of the 56 presidential elections in the past, 31 of them have involved incumbent presidents and of those 31, an overwhelming majority of 21 won their seats back, a 67 percent odds favorite.

According to 270toWin.com, Obama is slated to acquire 196 electoral college votes from traditionally blue or Democrat leaning and voting states and the GOP nominee, who presumably will be Mitt Romney, can count on getting 181 votes from traditional red or Republican states. That leaves Nevada, Colorado, Florida, Iowa, Missouri, Wisconsin, Michigan, Ohio, Pennsylvania, New Hampshire, Virginia, North Carolina  and New Mexico and a total of 161 votes up for grabs.

Of those states, Florida has the most votes with 29.  And it’s arguably the most important state because whichever candidate carries Florida has an easier road to the White House.

Some say Republicans may have gotten a head start of tilting the odds in their favor by getting the majority GOP legislature in that state to pass a series of laws that could have the effect of suppressing the Black vote. The state has just under 3 million African Americans, representing 26% of its total population. That percentage is almost double the proportion of Blacks in the US population overall, which is about 15%. With 90% of African Americans voting Democratic, it is not serendipitous that the new laws may have been crafted to prevent this bloc from fully exercising its voting rights this November.

The Florida legislature successfully passed three measures, not directly or specifically aimed at African Americans, students, the elderly and other transitory populations, but which may have the planned consequence of suppressing their vote. One prohibits voters from changing their address on voting day.

“African Americans are more transient than any other population, especially the poor,” Florida State Representative and Chair of the Florida Legislative Black Caucus Mia Jones told Politic365 in an interview last week. “We know the economy is really bad right now and a lot of people have had to move from homes that they have been in for decades.”

“These provisions that they put in place will definitely have an impact.”

A second law reduced the number of days counties could offer for early voting by 40%, from 14 to 8 days, and also specifically banned early voting the Sunday before an election. African Americans disproportionately vote early because, among other reasons, many work in jobs that do not permit them to take off during voting hours.  Many cannot take transportation to their polling places and get back to work in time.

A third rule requires those working to get people registered to turn in registration forms within 48 hours or face a fine of $1,000 per voter. There are already several grassroots workers facing penalty and charges for violating this rule, Representative Jones said.

Another policy change would ban anyone with a felony from voting, affecting an estimated 1 million Floridians. The Florida Department of Corrections and US Census indicate that while African Americans comprise just 16 percent of the state’s total population, they make up half the inmate population in Florida prisons

Organizers of the State of Black Florida realize the seriousness of these laws and their potential impact on this November’s presidential elections and decided to focus its annual gathering this past weekend on Black voter suppression efforts. The 10th annual event “crescendoed” last Friday when attendees marched on the statehouse to express their disapproval and outrage at voter suppression laws.

Jones said that despite several pending lawsuits, including one by the ACLU, there is little hope to get the laws overturned or enjoined in time for the elections.  She and other state and national leaders are left scrambling to launch a grassroots campaign based on voter education.

That might be a good plan since an educated electorate is the only weapon Democrats have at this moment if they want to maximize Get Out the Vote strategies in that state.

Critics say that in 2012 there is no excuse whatsoever for an adult not to have valid and accurate identification. Rather than spend time whining and explaining what they see as exceptions for this presumption, Democrats ought to allocate resources and efforts to educating their base and making sure those who want to exercise their voting rights are aware of all the new laws that will impact them.

Meanwhile, Republicans, having already laid the ground work for minimizing student, elderly and African American voting blocs, can focus their attention on energizing Cuban and Hispanic populations which constitute 12% of the Republican Party in Florida.

It’s a battle of grassroots mobilization between 90% of Black voters and 12% of GOP voters.

And it’s, potentially, a year 2000 déjà vu all over again. As Florida goes, so goes the election.

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