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The Power of Now
Wednesday, June 20, 2012
Federal Court Hearing in DC Thursday on Florida’s Plan to Significantly Reduce the Early Voting Period and Discourage Registration Drive Volunteers
(Washington, D.C.) While many in the last week focused on Florida’s illegal purge of thousands of registered voters, a three-judge federal court in Washington, D.C. will hold a hearing on Thursday, June 21about whether to block Florida from implementing additional voting changes.
The hearing is at 9:30 a.m. in Courtroom 28A (6th Floor) at the U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia at333 Constitution Avenue, N.W., Washington, D.C.
In the lawsuit, Florida v. United States, Florida asks a federal court to approve, under Section 5 of the Voting Rights Act, voting measures that would significantly alter Florida’s voting process. Five counties in Florida are covered by Section 5 of the Voting Rights Act. As a consequence, statewide voting changes in Florida cannot be implemented until this court has reviewed them and determined that they will not have a discriminatory effect on minority voters.
The issue is expected to be resolved in time for the November elections.
“Florida’s recent discriminatory purge is but one aspect of its broader attempt to discourage political participation through the very channels that produced historic turnout in the previous two elections,” said Ryan P. Haygood, Director of the Political Participation Group at NAACP Legal Defense Fund. “Implementation of these additional discriminatory changes to Florida’s voting laws would be devastating for Black and other minority voters in the state.”
Most dramatically, under the proposed law, Florida would cut the number of early voting days available in half. This proposal is particularly problematic because Blacks make up a large percentage of early voters. During the 2008 election, for example, Blacks comprised nearly 20% of early voters, despite being only approximately 12% of the electorate. Overall, nearly 55% of Black voters in Florida voted during the early voting period in 2008. Florida also eliminated early voting on the last Sunday before Election Day, a day on which Black churches in Florida -- through “Get Your Souls to the Polls” programs -- have traditionally organized transportation from Sunday services directly to the voting booth.
The proposed voting law also imposes severe restrictions on organizations that conduct voter registration drives and places new provisional ballot requirements on voters who move before Election Day.In Okaloosa County, for example, the Supervisor of Elections objected to voter registration forms as late, even though his office was closed for Martin Luther King Day and volunteers delivered the forms on the next business day.
LDF represents the Florida State Conference of the NAACP and Black voters in this case.
“Our clients have an important story to tell the court about the discriminatory impact of Florida’s proposed changes,” said Haygood. “The Voting Rights Act promises that the story will not end with voters of color being the victims of discrimination.”
LDF represents Black voters in several additional voting rights cases, including Texas v. Holder and South Carolina v. Holder, cases involving discriminatory photo ID measures in Texas and South Carolina, respectively; Georgia State Conference of the NAACP, et al., v. Fayette County Board of Education, et al., a case involving a discriminatory method of election; Scott, et al. v. Schedler, et al., a challenge to the State of Louisiana’s non-compliance with the National Voter Registration Act; and Shelby County, Alabama v. Holder, a case challenging the constitutionality of the Voting Rights Act that may make its way to the U.S. Supreme Court.
In the last year, fourteen states have passed 25 various laws designed to restrict the ballot access of people of color. For more information, please see “Defending Democracy: Confronting Modern Barriers to Voting Rights in America,” a report co-authored by the NAACP Legal Defense Fund and the NAACP.
Since its founding in 1940, NAACP Legal Defense Fund (LDF) has been a pioneer in the struggle to secure and protect the voting rights of African-Americans. LDF has been involved in nearly all of the precedent-setting litigation relating to minority voting rights. LDF argued the 2009 Supreme Court case, Northwest Austin Municipal Utility District No. 1 v. Holder, that left Section 5’s important protections intact. LDF uses legal, legislative, public education and advocacy strategies to promote the full, equal and active participation of African-Americans in America’s democracy. LDF has been a separate entity from the NAACP since 1957.