Florida Democrats push back on Legislature's actions that they say restrict voting


In recent years, efforts by Rick Scott and the GOP-led Legislature to combat what they say is voting fraud have not been a political winner for them.

After major voting restrictions were passed by the Legislature in 2011, Democrats and the League of Women Voters made concentrated efforts to combat those efforts, resulting in the Supreme Court knocking down one provision of the law and voters being inspired to make their vote count, with some waiting as long as six hours to vote during the 2012 presidential election.

The backlash to that 2011 law led the Legislature to pass a law in 2013 that loosened some of the restrictions imposed in 2011.

And a directive by Secretary of State Ken Dentzer on where voters could deliver absentee ballots received significant pushback from local supervisors of election in the state, many of them fellow Republicans.

So while two voting bills by Democrats in the state Legislature might have little chance to succeed in the GOP-controlled House and Senate, they allow the Democrats to stay on the offensive on this issue, which definitely fires up their base.

The Florida Voting Rights Act (SB 1246 and HB 1079), co-sponsored by Senator Geraldine Thompson (D-Orlando) and Representative Reggie Fullwood (D-Jacksonville), would prohibit any voting procedures that discriminate on the basis of race, gender, age, income level, sexual orientation, language, religion or disability. It would also allow the Florida Attorney General to petition the Florida Supreme Court to review changes in voting procedure (including but not limited to changes in redistricting plans, early voting, absentee voting, language access, list maintenance and voter registration) before they go into effect, to determine if they have a discriminatory impact.

“The Florida Voting Rights Act will restore the kind of protection that many Florida voters formerly had under the federal Voting Rights Act, and goes even further by applying that protection to the entire state,” said Rep. Fullwood in a press release. “Florida can’t wait on Washington to fix our state’s election problems. It’s up to us. The Florida Voting Rights Act and the Florida Right to Vote Act are what we need to ensure that the most enduring promise of our democracy — our right to vote — is protected.”

Then there is the Florida Right to Vote Act (SB 1132 and HB 1073), co-sponsored by Senator Oscar Braynon (D-Miami Gardens) and Representative Victor M. Torres (D-Orlando), would make voting a fundamental right in Florida — requiring voting policies to fall under strict scrutiny, the highest standard of judicial review. This would require lawmakers and election officials, including Supervisors of Elections, to demonstrate a compelling reason before they can enact policies that make it harder to vote, show that the measure is narrowly tailored, and prove that it will advance its stated goal.

Torres says that for too long, the Sunshine State has become the "poster child for election disasters."

“Some politicians would argue that voting should be hard and involve some epic journey to the front of the line," Torres adds."But voting is not a privilege; it is a fundamental right of U.S. citizenship. These two bills would finally protect that right, once and for all, to ensure that our voting system is free, fair and accessible to all Floridians.”

That line of attack seems to be singling out Manatee County Supervisor of Elections Mike Bennett, who in 2011 while serving in the state Senate said about voting that, “I wouldn’t have any problem making it harder. I would want them to vote as badly as I want to vote. I want the people of the state of Florida to want to vote as bad as that person in Africa who’s willing to walk 200 miles …This should not be easy.” He made that statement while supporting the 2011 Elections bill that reduced the number of days for early voting, dramatically reduced the time for third-party groups to hand in new voter registrations, and made it much more difficult for people who had recently moved but not updated their addresses with the SOE's offices to vote.

Last month the Manatee County Commission voted 6-1 to approve a cut in the number of polling locations by almost 30 percent, angering Democrats in the county (the lone dissenting vote came from the lone Democratic commissioner, Michael Gallen.

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