Several Florida organizations that watchdog voting rights issues are giving a thumbs down to the elections bill currently awaiting a vote in the Florida legislature. In a letter delivered to House Speaker Will Weatherford, the organizations argue that the bill has a disproportionately harmful impact on minorities and they offer several recommendations for strengthening the measure. HB 7013 gives supervisors of elections discretion to decide if their county should have early voting between eight and 14 days. Before the GOP-controlled legislature rewrote elections law in 2011, 14 days of early voting was mandatory. The change contributed to long lines in the 2012 election, the groups say in their letter, and they ask that those 14 days be restored.
The groups include: Florida New Majority, Advancement Project, American Civil Liberties Union of Florida, Fair Elections Legal Network, Florida State Conference NAACP, Haitian-American Grassroots Coalition, LatinoJustice PRLDEF, Lawyers Committee for Civil Rights Under Law, Mi Familia Vota, PICO, United Florida, and the Service Employee International Union of Florida.
“When lawmakers returned to the State Capitol after the disastrous 2012 election, many of them claimed that reforming Florida’s voting system was a top priority,” said Florida New Majority Executive Director Gihan Perera. “They vowed to fix the problems created in 2011 under House Bill 1355. What they came up with simply does not go far enough. More than 200,000 Florida citizens walked away from the marathon voting lines of 2012 because they were unable to wait for hours, and they were ultimately denied their fundamental right to vote. This is a crisis that calls for more than just tinkering around the edges. It requires bold action. The current elections bill doesn’t come close to meeting this standard.”
The letter goes on to say that Florida minority voters are more likely to take advantage of early voting, particularly on the last Sunday before Election Day, when African-American churches have historically organized statewide “Souls to the Polls” voter turnout campaigns. After the cuts to early voting in 2011 the number of African Americans and Latinos who voted early dropped significantly, the letter says.