Florida Activists to turn out Thousands of Early Voters this Weekend

Oct 29, 2012 –

For Immediate Release:
Contact: Rebecca Wakefield

MIAMI – Thousands of voters across Florida will head to polling locations starting Saturday as the state’s early voting period begins. Hispanics, African-Americans, women, youth and seniors plan to turn out in force to counter an aggressive campaign by some elected officials to suppress voting.

Activists, union members, clergy and civic leaders in several parts of the state are leading the effort, which focuses on five major regions – Miami, Tampa, Orlando, Jacksonville and Palm Beach. Mobilizations, “souls to the polls” events, and larger GOTV efforts are planned in each region.

“Despite state-sanctioned voter suppression, we expect thousands of Floridians to mobilize to early voting sites in neighborhoods across the state to ensure that our voices are heard and counted,” said Monica Russo, president of SEIU Florida State Council. “Voting is the one time when we are all equal, with every citizen – rich or poor, young or old, and regardless of race – having the same influence when we walk into that voting booth.”

In South Florida, Rev. Al Sharpton will travel to multiple early voting sites, including a Blessing of the Polls near dawn before early voting starts at the Government Center in downtown Miami. There also will be street marches from parks to early voting sites in African American, Haitian and Hispanic neighborhoods.

In Jacksonville, former State Senator Tony Hill will lead an “Occupy the Vote” vigil outside an early voting site along with students and people from the community on Friday night.

Similar actions and rallies will occur in Orlando, Tampa and Delray Beach. On Sunday, scores of congregations go to designated early voting sites to vote as part of the “Souls to the Polls” weekend of activities.

Voting early doesn’t just help avoid long lines on Election Day,” said Gihan Perera, executive director of Florida New Majority and FNM Education Fund. “It also eliminates the chance of anything going wrong in your schedule – whether a sick child or a crisis at work – to prevent you from voting. Make your plan now to participate.”

In 2008, Florida experienced a record turnout of minority and youth voters. More than 30 percent of all votes were cast before Election Day. Since then, members of the state legislature and the Gov. Rick Scott administration have worked steadily to suppress voting turnout in 2012. Tactics have ranged from making voter registration by third parties more difficult, to an ill-conceived “voter purge” of minorities, to simply reducing the number of days available for early voting from fourteen to eight.

In response, activists have focused heavily on voter education and turnout, aimed at clearing up confusion and frustration about voting in Florida. Ballots this year are lengthy, clogged with constitutional amendments, local races and referendums. Media across the state have also reported on suspicious phone calls and mailings to some voters that seemed designed to create doubt about their ability to cast a ballot.

The antidote to these attacks on democracy is to vote – and vote early. Early voting runs from Oct. 27 through Nov.3.

The Saturday rallies in Miami, Jacksonville, Tampa, Orlando and Palm Beach mark the start of early voting. The regional coordination comes through a partnership between Florida New Majority, SEIU State Council and a host of local organizations and faith communities.

Through the Florida Freedom PAC, organizers have heavily canvassed voters throughout the state, knocking on more than 200,000 doors and speaking directly with more than 130,000 voters to encourage them to turn out to vote. Other efforts include tele town halls, community meetings and significant outreach on local radio stations throughout the state.

“Some people think the 2008 turnout was a fluke,” said Bishop Victor T. Curry, senior pastor at New Birth and president of the Miami chapter of the National Action Network. “As a community, we understand that we have a moral duty to vote. We will show that this is the real thing. We know that, when people turn up to the polls, we all win.”