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Florida Liveaboards: Is It Voter Supression? (Blog) - PassageMaker
Clues from the St. Brendan's Isle Voter Rolls

Wow! Reaction over the weekend to “Liveaboard Voting Rights Threatened in Florida” was overwhelming. Thousands of cruisers read the story and scores commented on Facebook. Many raised the issue of whether the Florida election officer in question was trying to suppress voting for partisan reasons.

For decades cruisers have been voting using an address at the St. Brendan's Isle mail service (photo above) in Green Cove Springs , Florida. A few weeks ago a local elections officer said that he would no longer register new voters from St. Brendan's and that he would begin a process of purging ineligible existing St. Brendan's customers from the rolls.

Here’s what I wrote in that story about St. Brendan’s Isle customers based on years of covering the cruising scene:

As disenfranchisement controversies go, the Clay County scenario is unique in that it does not target minorities or convicted felons who have served their time. The liveaboard cruising community is relatively affluent, overwhelmingly white, mostly retired, and many of them are veterans of the armed forces.

And here’s what I know now after having obtained the registration list of all 3,500 voters, whose address is 411 Walnut Street, Green Cove Springs.

Party Affiliation in Percentages

DEMREPNPA

USA

31

24

42

FLORIDA

37

35

27

CLAY COUNTY

22

54

24

411 WALNUT STREET

25

36

38

As you might expect from retired, older, financially secure caucasian voters, the Walnut Street crowd skews more Republican than the country as a whole, but not nearly as Republican as Clay County, Florida. And as it happens, purging all Walnut Street voters would result in a net advantage of 945 votes for Republicans in the county. 

So yesterday I asked Supervisor of Elections Chris Chambless (whose office had been pretty cooperative to date) to respond to those readers who saw his new policy as a partisan strategy to maximize the GOP vote. This time Chambless did not respond. (Supervisor, It's not too late. Send me a statement and we'll share it.)

Hearing crickets, I'll put forth an analysis of my own. First, you should know that the elections supervisor is an elected position, and Chambless ran as a Republican.

But personally, even if I were a partisan kind of person, (mixed metaphor alert) I would be loathe to up-end an entire ecosystem just to move the goal posts a few millimeters in my direction. I don't know Chambless, but I hope that's not the way he thinks.

A second thing you should know is that 411 Walnut Street voters do not cast ballots in local elections--state and national contests only. Third thing: Florida is a key battleground in Presidential elections, and the current president won the state by a thin margin in 2016.

Of more than 9 million votes cast in Florida, the President's margin in the popular vote was only about 113,000, or 1.2 percent. In this context, maybe a block of a thousand votes really is fighting for given the coming Presidential election in 2020.

What troubles me is that the state Elections Division advisory opinion that Chambless solicited seems to leave no way for itinerant individuals to vote--none at all unless they lived in Clay County before the sold their home went cruising. Here's another question I put to Chambless:

Much of the social media commentary focused on what could be done to register and vote legally. Maybe this is an opportunity to turn this discussion in a positive direction.

Let me offer a scenario: A retired couple sells their home in Pennsylvania, buys a boat to live aboard full-time and brings that boat to Florida with the intention of being in Florida for most of the year with occassional side trips to places such as the Bahamas. They don't own real estate in Florida or anywhere else, and they are not renting a home here. Please advise what steps these retirees must take to register and vote legally. How can it be done?

No response yet. If and when it comes, I'll be certain to share it with you. Stand by.

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