“Here we go again! And this time we learned that even the Governor found himself caught in the system’s maze a few years ago. It is more than ironic that Governor Scott, who has spent a tremendous amount of energy to suppress the turnout of minorities, the elderly, and the student population in this election, upon attempting to cast an early ballot in 2006 in Naples, was told that ‘he could not vote because he was dead.’ He then went on to cast a provisional ballot, which, he said, he is ‘sure it counted.’ It has been well documented that provisional ballots, however, are not counted much of the time, and need to be defended before a three member canvassing board prior to being considered valid.
Recently, Floridians saw one salient example of the effects of the governor’s policies when a 91 year old, World War II veteran, Bill Internicola, a U.S. citizen from Brooklyn who had voted for 14 years in Florida without difficulty, was purged from the voting rolls because ‘he was not a citizen…and needed to request a hearing with the Broward County Supervisor of Elections to provide proof that that he was or otherwise forfeit his right to vote.’
In fact, the ACLU has sued the state of Florida in federal court to stop the purge, claiming that the effort violates the 1965 Voting Rights Act, which requires Florida to get permission for election-law changes in Hillsborough, Monroe, Collier, Hardee and Hendry counties. Moreover, the Department of Justice has said that Florida has likely violated the 1965 VRA, as well as the National Voter Registration Act, which bans voter purges within 90 days of a federal election.
Indeed, Governor Scott’s elections bill that was passed last year severely curtails voters’ basic rights by including numerous provisions which make it extremely difficult for many of my constituents to register and cast a vote. One egregious item that the state of Florida is implementing is the elimination of early voting on the last Sunday before Election Day. Not surprisingly, there is a good deal of evidence that demonstrates African Americans and Hispanics vote on Sundays in far greater numbers than whites. Statistics show that in the 2008 general election in Florida, 33.2% of those who voted early on the last Sunday before Election Day were African American, while 23.6% were Hispanic.
The ‘Omnibus Elections bill,’ which became state law last year, would also make voting more difficult for people who have recently changed residence, as well as shorten early voting time from 14 days down to six. It also would provide a 100 foot buffer between voters standing in line and advocates attempting to provide them with information about the candidates. Additionally, it attempts to impose new restrictions on third-party groups who register voters (a provision which was recently struck down as unconstitutional by a Tallahassee federal judge who ruled that a 48-hour deadline for third party groups to turn in voter registration forms is “harsh and impractical”). Moreover, the law imposes $50-a-day fines on election supervisors who are late in filing routine reports with the state, as well as allow the state to impose binding directives on county elections supervisors, who have traditionally had wide discretion over the elections in their jurisdictions.
And this issue, unfortunately, is not limited exclusively to Florida. Nationwide in fact, we are witnessing an organized effort to turn back the clock to the pre-1965 Voting Rights Act era, as Republican state legislators work to suppress minority voting rights and deter voters from registering to vote or go to the polls this November.
In fact, a study conducted last year by New York University’s Brennan Center for Justice found that up to five million voters across the country may be prevented from registering to vote in the 2012 elections because of onerous restrictions tacked on during this legislative session. In the words of Michael Waldman, the executive director of the Brennan Center, this is ‘the most significant rollback to voting rights in decades.’
Minority voting groups, as well as elderly voters and university students, have taken too many steps forward to allow these types of retrogressive laws to reverse them. It is outright embarrassing that Florida residents are once again being used as guinea pigs, particularly after what happened during the 2000 elections in our state. Given that voting is the bedrock of our democracy, it is critical to make it easier for people to register and to vote, not erect unnecessary barriers!”