March 21, 2013 –

Coalition of state leaders call for new measures to fix Florida’s broken election system, affirm support for enshrining the right to vote into state law

(Tallahassee) – Florida State Sen. Oscar Braynon, Rep. Joe Saunders, Rep. Alan Williams, Florida New Majority, Advancement Project and grassroots activists announced their opposition today to HB 7013 and SB 600, election reform omnibus bills currently moving through the legislature. In a press conference at the Capitol Building, the coalition maintained that the bills fall short of truly resolving the problems that hundreds of thousands of voters – including several of the speakers themselves – faced in the 2012 elections.

Participants also affirmed support for enshrining the fundamental right to vote into state law, a measure that Braynon and Saunders introduced in election reform legislation last month.

“The right to vote is not just a civil right, it’s a basic human right of all people who want to live in a democracy,” said Sen. Oscar Braynon. “The current bills just don’t do enough. As elected officials, we have a responsibility to do more to fulfill the public’s expectation of free, fair and accessible elections.”

“The problems with our election system did not begin just last year when people showed up for early voting,” said Rep. Joe Saunders. “They began months and years before, when the political system refused to acknowledge that there are meaningful ways that we can guarantee more participation in our democracy. We can, and should, do more to ensure that people’s right to vote is protected.”

Among other provisions, the current omnibus bills partially reinstate Florida’s early voting period by letting supervisors of elections offer early voting for between eight to 14 days at their own discretion. The Senate bill also creates new restrictions on the use of emergency absentee ballots, and requires an additional signature from a witness on an absentee ballot in order for it to be counted – stipulations that only create more barriers to the ballot box.

“Despite the continued attempts to derail it, democracy is alive and well in Florida,” said Angie Nixon, Florida New Majority’s Jacksonville Coordinator. “Not because of the politicians – but because of a statewide movement of people who got involved in the struggle, and who refuse to let us slide back into the mistakes of the past. They came here from all across the state to tell lawmakers that they must step up and protect our democracy.”

Members of Florida New Majority spent the morning lobbying members of the Florida State Legislature and sharing their stories of how they struggled to vote last year. Several spoke at the press conference, including Sonia Gibson, a working mother who waited six hours to vote; Kathy Orta, a first-time Puerto Rican voter from Orlando; and Jacksonville’s Devon Coleman, whose prior criminal record has blocked his access to the polls.

“In order to have a robust, inclusive democracy in Florida, the legislature must think bigger than just trying to undo the damage that was caused in 2011 by the troubling voting laws we saw then,” said Carolyn Thompson, a Voter Protection Advocate for Advancement Project.

“This legislature should be making every effort to strengthen and expand our democracy, not making it harder to cast a ballot. Guaranteeing an affirmative, explicit right to vote into state law would protect citizens against the legislative barriers to voting that continue to be erected.”

Participants followed the press conference with a silent march to Gov. Rick Scott’s office, where they laid flower pots at his door – representing “flowers of democracy” for him to protect.