May 01, 2013 –
Proposed Bill’s Failure to Fully Restore Much-Needed 14 Days of Early Voting, or Increase Polling Place Resources, Will Lead to Long Lines Again
(Tallahassee, FL) – In advance of the final vote on Florida’s omnibus elections bill this week, a coalition of groups from the civil rights, legal and labor communities are calling on the Florida House to amend the legislation, saying that “half measures are not enough.”
In a letter delivered to House Speaker Will Weatherford, the organizations also argue that the bill’s shortfalls have a disproportionately harmful impact on communities of color and offer several recommendations for strengthening the measure.
Currently the bill, HB 7013, gives Supervisors of Elections discretion to decide if their county should have early voting between eight and 14 days. Florida voters previously enjoyed a mandatory 14 days of early voting in the state until the legislature enacted cuts in 2011, a change which contributed to unacceptably long lines in the 2012 election. In their letter to Speaker Weatherford, the groups – Florida New Majority, Advancement Project, Haitian American Grassroots Coalition, Lawyers’ Committee for Civil Rights Under Law, Mi Familia Vota, the Florida State Conference of the NAACP and LatinoJustice PRLDEF – called on lawmakers to amend the bill so that it mandates 14 days of early voting for a minimum of 12 hours each day.
“When lawmakers returned to the State Capitol after the disastrous 2012 election, many of them claimed that reforming Florida’s voting system was a top priority,” said Florida New Majority Executive Director Gihan Perera. “They vowed to fix the problems created in 2011 under House Bill 1355. What they came up with simply does not go far enough. More than 200,000 Florida citizens walked away from the marathon voting lines of 2012 because they were unable to wait for hours, and they were ultimately denied their fundamental right to vote. This is a crisis that calls for more than just tinkering around the edges. It requires bold action. The current elections bill doesn’t come close to meeting this standard.”
Florida’s voters of color are more likely to take advantage of early voting, particularly on the last Sunday before Election Day, when African-American churches have historically organized statewide “Souls to the Polls” voter turnout campaigns. After the cuts to early voting in 2011, the letter details, the number of African Americans and Latinos who voted early dropped significantly.
“This Florida omnibus elections bill risks future disenfranchisement because it leaves the needed fixes to discretion,” said Advancement Project Co-Director Judith Browne Dianis. “When it comes to the fundamental right to vote, it is not enough to propose half measures. The legislature’s disappointing approach thus far to addressing this severe problem only underscores the need for an explicit, fundamental right to vote in Florida law. We hope the House will move forward with this type of bold, comprehensive action in the future. For now, it is critical that they amend the omnibus bill to ensure free, fair and accessible elections for all Florida voters.”
Among other changes, the organizations recommend these amendments for the House elections bill:
• Increase the mandatory number of early voting hours to 168 – requiring early voting for 14 days, with 12 hours per day, including two full weekends.
• Require small counties to offer the same number of early voting hours as large counties. This does not impose an undue burden on smaller counties, which can simply offer early voting in their Supervisor of Elections office.
• Increase polling place resources by implementing a statutory formula. A formula based on anticipated turnout should be applied to ensure an adequate number of poll workers, machines, privacy booths, scanners, printers and translators per polling place.