Report: Florida one of the ‘five worst states for voting rights in 2011′

By | 04.04.12 | 1:18 pm

Pic by samantha celera, via Flickr

The Center for American Progress released a report today on voter suppression efforts carried out by Republican-led state legislatures around the country, listing Florida as one of “five worst states for voting rights in 2011.”

As we at The Florida Independent have been reporting, Florida lawmakers passed a new voting law last year that has drawn fire from federal officials, legislators, advocacy groups and voting rights experts from all over the country. The many critics of the law have said the law is a concerted effort to keep minorities, young people, the elderly and the poor from the polls on Election Day.

Florida’s contentious law places prohibitive rules and restrictions on third-party voter registration groups, creates a shortened “shelf life” for signatures collected for ballot initiatives, places new restrictions on voters changing their registered addresses on election day, and reduces the number of early voting days — among many other provisions.

Experts have warned, though, that Florida is not alone. Last year, a slew of strict voter ID laws and prohibitive voter registration rules were passed in state legislatures all over the country. These laws have experts warning that marginalized groups could be facing increased barriers to the polls and a rollback of their voting rights. Specifically, critics of these laws have warned that women, African-Americans, Latinos, students, low-income voters, the elderly and the disabled would be most affected.

The fact that key states in the upcoming election — such as Florida — are passing laws that curb voter turnout could greatly affect the outcome of the upcoming presidential election.

The Center for American Progress report (.pdf) warns that “if similar swing states, such as Florida or Michigan, took up this plan, it could fundamentally transform the next election into a contest to see who can best game the system.” The organization listed Florida as one of the “five worst” worst states because state lawmakers enacted some of the worst voting restrictions all at once.

According to the group, Florida’s new law:

  • Succeeded in placing onerous new restrictions on nonprofit organizations that help register new voters. The group explains that “voter registration drives by groups such as the League of Women Voters have been a staple of our democracy for years, helping thousands of citizens to register, regardless of their political affiliation.”
  • Sought to eliminate the long-established practice of early voting on the last Sunday before Election Day. According to the Center, “substantial evidence points to Sundays as a day when African-Americans vote in proportionately far greater numbers than whites.”

The group also reported that Florida lawmakers “took away the right to vote from ex-felons who had completed their sentence” last year.

A report from the NAACP found that, as of last year, Florida actually has the “most restrictive” felon disenfranchisement “laws in the country.” According to the report (.pdf), Florida is one of only four states in the country that “denies the right to vote permanently to all individuals convicted of any felony offense.”

Per the Voting Rights Act of 1965, five counties in Florida currently require federal preclearance whenever the state passes a new voting law that could affect the voting rights of minorities. Typically the U.S. Department of Justice is tasked with reviewing the law, but Florida officials instead asked a D.C. court to preclear new rules. Earlier this month, the Department of Justice filed documents with the court panel reviewing the law, claiming that the state did not meet the “burden of proof” for its effort to crack down on voter registration and impose other onerous restrictions.

There are reports that the court panel reviewing the law will not reach a decision before Florida’s August primary, however.

A court in Tallahassee is also currently considering a challenge to the law by the League of Women Voters of Florida, Rock the Vote, Florida PIRG and others. The groups filed a lawsuit this past December charging that the law “unconstitutionally and unlawfully burdens their efforts, and the efforts of other individuals and community-based groups, to encourage civic engagement and democratic participation by assisting Florida citizens in registering to vote and exercising their fundamental right to vote.”

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