To read about our year-end Best of The Florida Independent series, click here. For complete coverage, click here.

The story:

During the 2011 legislative session, The Florida Independent’s Travis Pillow captured state Sen. Mike Bennett, R-Bradenton, defending new voting restrictions in unusually direct language. “Do you read the stories about the people in Africa?” Bennett asked, continuing:

The people in the desert, who literally walk two and three hundred miles so they can have the opportunity to do what we do, and we want to make it more convenient. How much more convenient do you want to make it? Do we want to go to their house? Take the polling booth with us? This is a hard-fought privilege. This is something people die for. You want to make it convenient? The guy who dies to give you that right, it was not convenient. Why would we make it any easier? I want ‘em to fight for it. I want ‘em to know what it’s like. I want them to go down there, and have to walk across town to go over and vote.

The impact:

PolitiFact quickly picked up on Bennett’s quote through Pillow’s reporting, awarding the lawmaker a “Pants on Fire” for his inaccurate statements about the voting processes in African nations.

In a letter (.pdf) sent to the U.S. Department of Justice, the American Civil Liberties Union of Florida and Project Vote decried the Florida Legislature’s overhaul of state election rules, in the process citing the PolitiFact piece and, by extension, Pillow’s original story.

“The fact that reducing early voting would have an adverse racial impact was a reason given by Florida Republican Senator Mike Bennett for passage of HB 1335,” the letter reads. The ACLU and Project Vote argued that statements such as Bennett’s are proof that the election law changes have a “discriminatory purpose” and will have a “discriminatory effect,” ultimately asking the Justice Department to stop Florida’s law from taking effect.

To read about our year-end Best of The Florida Independent series, click here. For complete coverage, click here.

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