Civil Rights Organizations File Lawsuit to Ensure Floridians Impacted by COVID-19 Can Participate in Presidential Primary Election

The plaintiffs allege the state’s failure to extend vote-by-mail deadlines, adjust early voting dates, and expand mail ballot transmission options amounts to a denial of critical voter opportunities in violation of the Fourteenth Amendment. The state’s refusal to take reasonable emergency election measures will prevent Floridians from participating in Tuesday’s Presidential Primary elections.

TALLAHASSEE – Today, a coalition of racial justice organizations filed a lawsuit in the U.S. District Court for the Northern District of Florida against Governor Ron DeSantis and Secretary of State Laurel M. Lee for refusing to make reasonable voting accommodations for Floridians impacted by COVID-19. In a motion submitted by Dream Defenders, New Florida Majority, Organize Florida, Advancement Project National Office, Demos, and LatinoJustice PRLDEF plaintiffs allege the state’s failure to extend vote-by-mail deadlines, adjust early voting dates, and expand mail ballot transmission options amounts to a denial of critical voter opportunities in violation of the Fourteenth Amendment. The state’s refusal to take reasonable emergency election measures will prevent Floridians from participating in Tuesday’s Presidential Primary elections.

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“Florida’s Presidential Primary Election is tomorrow and unless immediate action is taken by the state, millions of voters could be disenfranchised,” said Rachel Gilmer, co-director of Dream Defenders. “Thousands of young people who anticipated voting on or near their college campuses were abruptly sent home last week and Florida’s leadership has disregarded them entirely. Other states with primaries on Tuesday have shown leadership we have yet to see from Florida. These students have now missed the deadline to request an absentee ballot and it is only fair that we provide them an opportunity to vote by mail. We must extend the vote by mail deadline until March 27 or we run the risk of massive voter suppression this primary.”

The complaint requests that Florida amend its vote-by-mail process by:

“It’s important for me to be able to mail my vote in because I need my voice to be heard this election,” said Terriayna Spillman, a plaintiff in the suit, and a freshman at Bethune Cookman University in Daytona Beach. “This would be my first time voting in a primary election and contributing to a political change. Not allowing students to mail in our ballots will drive down youth turnout. I hope the state of Florida will do the right thing by extending the mail-in deadline.”

Governor DeSantis’ refusal to make voter accommodations because Floridians “voted during the Civil War” further trivializes the severity of the COVID-19 pandemic. 

“Approximately 112 polling places have been moved or consolidated including many at assisted living facilities,” said Andrea Mercado, Executive Director of New Florida Majority. “We understand that these closures are to protect public health, but it will create confusion, make lines longer at existing locations and will force people to travel farther. Extending and expanding vote by mail is common sense.”

Racial justice groups also cited quarantine requirements of Floridians with COVID-19 and a reduction in the number of poll workers available for Election Day duties as major voting barriers. To ensure all voters are able to cast a ballot, the groups also demand the state;

“As we face this pandemic, we must also safeguard our democracy and protect the right of Florida voters to cast a ballot. Our complaint today asks the federal court to order Governor Ron DeSantis and Secretary of State Laurel Lee to act swiftly and immediately,” said Chiraag Bains, Director of Legal Strategies at Demos. “They must extend vote-by-mail and make other critical accommodations to stop massive voter suppression, which will fall hardest on the state’s Black and brown voters and its vulnerable populations.”

“The state must move swiftly to protect Floridians’ health and right to vote,” said Judith Browne Dianis, Executive Director of Advancement Project National Office. “This is not business as usual. Floridians are entitled to have their voices heard this election, and it is imperative that the state provides voters with an array of options to cast their ballots.”

“Across the country, people are taking steps to mitigate the spread of the Coronavirus.  It is unconscionable that the state of Florida is not following newly issued guidelines for the safety of our community.  The Latinx community faces obstacles to the ballot including language access, changed polling locations as well as the economic crisis related to unprecedented closures of schools and business in light of the pandemic. If we aim to ensure that Latinxs can fully participate in the 2020 primary, then Florida must take steps to make sure that people don’t have to choose between their health and the vote. We call upon Florida to take the necessary action to make sure every vote counts,” said Kira Romero-Craft, Managing Attorney in the LatinoJustice PRLDEF’s Southeast Office.

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