[New York]–Today, the NAACP Legal Defense & Educational Fund, Inc. (“LDF”), the Florida Conference of Black State Legislators, and the NAACP Florida State Conference issued a joint letter urging the Attorney General to reject proposed changes to Florida’s Election Laws. The organizations argue that Florida has failed to meet its burden of showing that these changes to its Election Law will not have a retrogressive effect on minority voting rights, or that they were not adopted with a discriminatory purpose, as is required under the Section 5 preclearance provision of the Voting Rights Act.
John Payton, LDF’s President and Director-Counsel, noted that “the Voting Rights Act was designed to block precisely the kind of discriminatory voting changes that Florida has proposed.”
Florida has proposed numerous changes to its election laws that, if permitted to go forward, will have retrogressive effects on minority voters, including: (1) reductions in Florida’s early voting period; (2) new provisional ballot requirements for registered voters who move across county lines; and (3) new restrictions with significant penalties on third party organizations engaged in independent voter registration efforts.
Five Florida counties (Collier, Hardee, Hendry, Hillsborough, and Monroe) are covered by Section 5 of the Voting Rights Act. As a result, changes to statewide voting laws in Florida must be approved by the Department of Justice or the federal district court in the District of Columbia before they may be implemented.
Dale Ho, Assistant Counsel with LDF’s Political Participation Group, said, “the data shows that African Americans make up a disproportionate percentage of early voters in Florida.” During the 2008 Election 54% of African-American voters cast a ballot during the early voting period. In the five counties covered by Section 5 of the Voting Rights Act, African Americans were only 12.15% of the voting age population, but were 18.86% of early voters during the 2008 General Election, with over 41,000 African Americans voting early in those counties.
Statistics show that, as a group, African Americans and other minorities have less access to transportation in Florida, and are more likely to encounter difficulties getting to the polls on Election Day. “Therefore,” said Ho, “reductions in the early voting period will have a retrogressive effect on these voters’ rights.”
In addition, African Americans change address more frequently, and are therefore more likely to be required to use provisional ballots rather than normal ballots under Florida’s proposed voting rules. African Americans are also more likely to register to vote during voter registration drives, and will likely have fewer options for voter registration if these rules are permitted to go into effect.
“The sum total of these changes is a massive step backwards for minority voters in the Florida counties covered by Section 5 of the VRA,” said Ho. “It is curious that the State would adopt changes intentionally designed to make voting harder so soon after the historic election of 2008, when African Americans and other minority voters registered and turned out in record numbers.”