Elections bill is an assault on voters, say HB 1355 opponents

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A massive rewrite of Florida? elections laws to be debated today in the Florida House of Representatives is drawing harsh criticism from nonpartisan voter groups, grassroots political organizers, election supervisors, and several members of the Florida House Democratic Caucus.

At a press conference held in the Florida Capitol before the House convened, state Representative Jeff Clemens (D-Lake Worth), the Democratic Ranking Member on the House Governmental Operations Subcommittee, warned that the Republican-backed legislation would have the undesirable effect of suppressing the vote.

?his bill makes it harder to register to vote, harder to vote, and harder to have your vote counted. Why would we do any one of those things, much less all three??said Rep. Clemens.

House Bill 1355 and Senate Bill 2086 would, among other things, impose new restrictions on groups that register voters, shorten the validity of voter signatures on citizen initiatives from four years to two, and require voters to cast provisional ballots if they move to another county. Opponents have said the stricter provision would disproportionately affect college students, military personnel and low-income people, who are more likely to move more frequently.

The following are statements in opposition to the legislation that have been provided by concerned citizens:

Deirdre Macnab, President, League of Women Voters of Florida:
?hese election bills represent an assault on voters and voter registration groups. The League of Women Voters will be watching this bill very carefully, with possible suspension of our voter registration volunteer work and/or legal action possible. Upending years of progress in Florida? voting will not and should not be tolerated by voters. Grandmothers and young professionals with the League of Women Voters, and future young leaders with the Boy Scouts, along with other groups, despite what the Legislature may believe, are not the enemy. Ninety two years of voter registration has proved that we can be trusted without the threat of fines, oaths, and criminal penalties.?

Brad Ashwell, Democracy Advocate, Florida PIRG (The Public Interest Research Group):
?oters, particularly student voters, will be heavily impacted by this bill and likely disenfranchised due to the eliminating the ability to correct address information at the polls. This bill will push hundreds of thousands of voters towards provisional ballots which often go uncounted. In other words, this bill is virtually guaranteed to disenfranchise voters while serving no public good.?

Tony Fransetta, a veteran of the Korean war and the president of the Florida Alliance for Retired Americans, said: ?ur organization, which has 200,000 members, believes this terrible legislation would weaken our democracy by making it harder to vote and harder for the people to propose changes to the constitution.?

Mike Williams, President, Florida AFL-CIO:
?his legislation is an attempt to rig the game on the most important aspects of our democracy, the right to vote, to have that vote counted and for the people of Florida to fully engage in our elections. It can? be separated from the overall push by many in this legislative process to silence working families and ensure that there is no check on the power of the special interests that currently dominate this process.?

Carolyn Thompson, Advocate, Voter Protection Program Advancement:
?B 1355 Harms Florida? most vulnerable voters. If HB 1355 is allowed to pass into law, the Floridians most harmed will be those who are historically disenfranchised, people of color, women and youth. Hundreds of thousands of Floridians moved since the last elections, many due to foreclosure. They will no longer have the option to correct their addresses and vote a regular ballot, they will be forced to vote a provisional ballot. 50% of those provisional ballots were not counted in the 2008 General Elections, due to voters not signing the ballot envelope and ballots cast in the wrong precinct.?

Megan Donovan, Staff Attorney, Fair Elections Legal:
?fter Bush v. Gore, states around the country undertook efforts to modernize the way elections are run and to make sure all eligible voters are able to conveniently register and cast ballots that will count. This bill would turn back the clock to a darker day in our history. Plainly, it will stop eligible citizens from voting?limiting voter registration drives, limiting convenient options for voters, and causing confusion on Election Day.?

Kindra Muntz, President, Sarasota Alliance for Fair Elections:
?he Florida legislature is doing everything in its power to take away our democracy and give control to the politically appointed Secretary of State, instead of the people, whom they are supposed to serve.?

Badili Jones, Florida New Majority:
?lorida has had a history of suppressing the rights of voters, in particular minority voters,?said Badili Jones of Florida New Majority, a statewide voter mobilization organization based in African American and Latino communities.?These bills have all the hallmarks of that bad legacy we are trying to get away from.?

Dan McCrea, Florida Voters, Executive Director:
?lorida Voters President, Dan McCrea, said, ?B 1355 and its Senate counterpart should be roundly defeated in their entirety. Section 1 would further consolidate authority over Florida? elections to the politically appointed Secretary of State and away from locally elected county Supervisors of Elections. It? dangerous because it centralizes control, darkens accountability, and politicizes what should be the neutral playing field of free elections. Section 43 guts the fundamental transparency of watching votes being counted. The wording completely alters the intent of the current statute, reducing it to the narrow observation of ballot reconciliation in the polling place ?a right already granted in the Election Code ?and leaves counting actual votes in the dark.?

Alma R. Gonzalez, AFSCME, Special Counsel:
?his bill is yet another shameless attempt to try to silence the voices of hard working Floridians and assault of the most precious of rights we enjoy as Americans.?

Michael Slater, Project Votes, Executive Director:
?nce again, the top priority for House Republicans seems to be to gain themselves an advantage in the next election. With all the real economic problems facing Florida, it is shameful to see the House leadership wasting time and taxpayer money on this kind of cynical maneuver to undermine a fair and honest democratic practice.?

Paul Jacob, president of Citizens in Charge:
?or too long, the legislature has attacked the ability of Florida voters to hold government accountable through the ballot initiative process. Now HB-1355 would slice in half the time citizens have to gather signatures on petitions. Enough is enough! Do legislators support citizens having a democratic check on them? If so, they?l defeat HB-1355.?

Bob Rackleff, Leon County Commissioner, 1998-2010:
? grew up in the Republican Party in the 1950s. I never thought that the Party of Abraham Lincoln and Dwight Eisenhower, would so deliberately deprive so many of our African-American fellow citizens of the right to vote. On the heels of the Clemency Board decision to sabotage restoration of voting rights to felons who have repaid their debt to society, HB1355 is a low, dishonest law.?

Danielle Prendergast, ACLU of Florida Director of Public Policy:
?egislators have said this bill will ?arrow the widows and tighten the controls?of Florida? elections. While that? accurate, it? also sad that this Legislature views democracy as something that needs to be narrowed and controlled. As we saw with the unnecessary effort to roll back the restoration of voting rights through Clemency, it? crystal clear that the target is not just voting but creating barriers and obstacles to voting only for certain people. In this proposal, Florida? students, racial minorities and veterans will be the victims of this unneeded tinkering. Any system that denies people the right to fill out a normal ballot is a recipe for disenfranchisement. And in the context of Florida? tradition of stacking the election deck to favor candidates or enforce offensive Jim Crow principles, this effort is just the latest sad chapter in the Florida Handbook of Voter Suppression. The right to vote and free and fair access to the ballot box is the bedrock on with all our freedoms rest and this Legislature continues to chip away at the bedrock piece by piece.?


Peter Schorsch is the President of Extensive Enterprises and is the publisher of some of Florida’s most influential new media websites, including SaintPetersBlog.com, FloridaPolitics.com, ContextFlorida.com, and Sunburn, the morning read of what’s hot in Florida politics. SaintPetersBlog has for three years running been ranked by the Washington Post as the best state-based blog in Florida. In addition to his publishing efforts, Peter is a political consultant to several of the state’s largest governmental affairs and public relations firms. Peter lives in St. Petersburg with his wife, Michelle, and their daughter, Ella.