MIAMI — Tough new election laws aimed at forcing voters in many states to show photo identification at polling places have been blocked or delayed, delighting opponents who claim they were among a variety of partisan attempts to keep minorities from voting.

Supporters of the measures nevertheless predict they will prevail in the long run. And court battles continue in some states even as the Nov. 6 election date draws near.

The stakes are high especially in swing states where a close margin is expected in the race between Democratic President Barack Obama and Republican nominee Mitt Romney, as well as in numerous congressional and local campaigns. Other battles in key states such as Florida and Ohio have been fought over reductions in the number of early voting days and new restrictions on voter registration drives.

In the latest boon for Democrats, the U.S. Supreme Court on Tuesday cleared the way for voters in Ohio to cast ballots on the three days before Election Day, giving Obama's campaign a victory three weeks before the election. The court refused a request by the state's Republican elections chief and attorney general to get involved in a battle over early voting.

"It's been a real remarkable string of victories," said Wendy Weiser, director of the Democracy Program at New York University's Brennan Center for Justice. "There is an overwhelming sense that the courts are skeptical of this push to restrict voting. They recognize the basic thrust of this effort is counter to democracy."

Yet proponents of the laws, which they say help guarantee integrity in the election process, can point to some victories as well. For example, a panel of three federal judges ruled earlier this month that South Carolina's new voter photo ID law complies with the 1965 Voting Rights Act and would not disenfranchise minorities. But the judges also said the law could not take effect until 2013.

"The long-term battle on this, opponents are losing that battle," said Hans von Spakovsky, senior legal fellow at the conservative Heritage Foundation think tank in Washington. Of voter ID laws, he said: "The majority of decisions have upheld it."

The debate over the new laws focuses mainly on whether they might deter minority and elderly voters and those in lower economic classes from casting ballots. Photo IDs, for example, can require fees that some people can't pay. Shortening early voting days could disenfranchise minorities, particularly African-Americans who have embraced the practice in many states. Restrictions on registration drives could disproportionately affect minority populations that register at lower percentages than others.

In that view, according to University of Florida political science professor Daniel Smith, the laws "have intentionally tried to crack down on the voting rights of racial and ethnic minorities."

 

Supporters say such concerns are overblown and that such steps are critical to keep ineligible people from voting.

"How can you be against election integrity?" said Catherine Engelbrecht, president of the Houston-based True The Vote group that is monitoring elections and challenging the validity of voter rolls in numerous states.

Yet there is scant evidence of widespread voter fraud in many of the all-important swing states. Searches for ineligible voters in Colorado and Florida, for example, have yielded numbers that amount to less than one-tenth of 1 percent of all registered voters in either state.

State and federal courts have been a major battleground over election laws. In Florida, a federal judge blocked new restrictions on voter registration drives. In Ohio, the U.S. Supreme Court this week let stand a lower court's ruling that invalidated a law shortening the number of early voting days. Judges in Florida, on the other hand, have refused to block a law reducing that state's early voting days.

A panel of federal judges ruled that restrictive new photo ID requirements for Texas voters violated the Voting Rights Act. A federal appeals court upheld a ruling against Arizona's law requiring proof of citizenship to register to vote; the U.S. Supreme Court has agreed to review it in the coming months.

Vetoes by governors in other states have blocked new election laws. In Michigan, Republican Gov. Rick Snyder angered many in his own party when he rejected a measure that, among other things, would require a photo ID to get an absentee ballot.

A Democrat, Gov. Beverly Perdue of North Carolina, also vetoed a voter photo ID bill, as did fellow New Hampshire Democratic Gov. John Lynch. But New Hampshire's Legislature overrode the veto and the law was cleared by the U.S. Justice Department as not a threat to disenfranchise minorities.

The debate over these issues has a sharply partisan tone, with Democrats claiming they're being orchestrated by Republicans nationwide to suppress minorities and others who tend to vote for Democrats. Rep. John Lewis, a Georgia Democrat who fought for black voting rights in the civil rights era, put it in personal terms in a recent congressional fundraising email ominously titled "They don't want you to vote."

"We're seeing a deliberate and systematic effort on the part of Republican officials to prevent minorities, seniors, the young and the poor from casting their ballots," Lewis wrote.

Republicans and their allies, however, say polls show broad support for such anti-fraud measures as a photo ID for voters and blame Democrats for turning such laws into divisive political controversies aimed at rallying their own supporters.

"It's just common sense that you require that somebody actually is who they claim to be," said Pennsylvania state Rep. Daryl Metcalfe, sponsor of his state's photo ID law. "It did turn into a partisan battle that probably shouldn't be partisan."

Indeed, Gihan Perera, of the Florida New Majority group, said the opposition of his and other organizations to attempts in Florida to purge voter rolls using questionable lists of non-citizens proved to be a key mobilization point for efforts to register tens of thousands of new voters.

"I would say the chill is gone," Perera said. "Despite the challenges that we had, we are making tremendous inroads."

For the future, the three federal judges in the South Carolina photo ID case provided a roadmap for an acceptable law. The key, they said, was that South Carolina will expand the types of acceptable forms of identification, provide a convenient way for people to get a free ID and allow those without ID to still cast ballots as long as they write an affidavit stating why.

The Texas law that was declared invalid, on the other hand, would have required many voters to present a birth certificate when registering, did not have convenient ways for people to obtain IDs in many counties and had no provision for voters to cast ballots without a photo ID.

"At first blush, one might have thought South Carolina had enacted a very strict photo ID law," the judges wrote. "Much of the initial rhetoric surrounding the law suggested as much. But that rhetoric was based on a misunderstanding of how the law would work."

Category: FNM in the News

MIAMI -- Kimberly Kelley of Tampa has provided Florida elections officials with thousands of names of people she thinks may be ineligible to vote and should be removed from the rolls. On Election Day, she'll join thousands more – people of all political stripes – to monitor balloting.

"I believe there is fraud both ways. I don't think it's a specific group," said Kelley, a registered Republican whose group is called Tampa Vote Fair. "We're just there to observe. We're not going to intimidate anyone."

Poll watchers from unions, immigration groups and other organizations favoring greater voter access will also be on hand. Gihan Perera of the group Florida New Majority said training sessions are being held for observers and communications lines set up to respond to problems.

"We'll be aware and vigilant so that all of the rules and processes are honored and that our people are able to vote with ease," he said.

With polls showing a close race between President Barack Obama and Republican nominee Mitt Romney, a relative handful of votes either way in a battleground state like Florida or Ohio could make all the difference. The potential for disruptive crowds of observers at some precincts has sparked fears that voters may be intimidated or harassed or have their eligibility to vote challenged directly.

The concern is particularly intense among African-American and Hispanic voters, who historically have suffered discrimination and were targeted anew in more recent elections, civil rights leaders say.

"People have suffered and bled for our right to vote," said the Rev. Victor T. Curry, pastor of New Birth Baptist Church in Dania Beach, north of Miami. "We will have monitors who will monitor the monitors."

Groups such as True the Vote, a Houston-based organization with links to the tea party, refer to their activities as "election integrity." For those fearing suppression attempts, it's all about "voter protection." Both sides are organizing people around the country to be their poll watchers.

True the Vote has said it hopes to recruit 1 million people nationwide to be monitors. Its founder, Catherine Engelbrecht, said that her group is nonpartisan and that its goal is "renewing faith in our election system" through its growing national coalition.

 

"Every eligible American voter deserves the opportunity to participate in a fair and legal election process, even those Democrats and left-leaning organizations who continually cast false aspersions about our efforts," Engelbrecht said in an email. "We support lawful election processes."

Recent studies by New York University's Brennan Center for Justice and by the research and advocacy organization Demos show that voter intimidation and challenges are not relics from the past:

_In a 2011 state legislative election in Massachusetts, dozens of challenges were filed by poll monitors affiliated with tea party groups against Latino voters in Southbridge. Several voters said they felt intimidated in a vote that wound up in a court-ordered tie. Justice Department officials were on hand to observe the second vote, which was settled by just 56 votes.

_In 2010, a coalition of Minnesota conservative groups called Election Integrity Watch offered $500 to anyone who provided tips about fraud and encouraged volunteers to take photos and videotape voters at the polls, according to Demos research. It's unclear if these tactics were widely deployed or whether they deterred voters from casting ballots.

_True the Vote poll watchers used inaccurate voter lists to challenge a number of college students during the 2012 recall election of Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker, resulting in a disruptive atmosphere in which an undetermined number of students opted not to vote rather than wait in long lines. The impact on the recall's outcome is uncertain, but Walker prevailed in the overall vote.

True the Vote's activities, especially its pre-election challenges of thousands of voter registrations, have drawn the attention of Democratic members of Congress, including Rep. Elijah Cummings, D-Md. Cummings said in a letter to Engelbrecht that many of the challenges appear to have no legitimate basis and "could amount to a criminal conspiracy to deny legitimate voters their constitutional rights."

In a written response, Engelbrecht offered to meet with Cummings and said the group has found evidence of election law violations.

"Election integrity is a serious concern across the nation," she wrote.

States have specific rules regarding who is allowed inside polling places and how close outside observers can get. In Florida, those on the outside must stay at least 100 feet away. Most states also allow private citizens to directly challenge the eligibility of voters – for example, claiming they don't have proper identification – although not all of those challenges can be made on Election Day.

Federal and state agencies also play a role in poll monitoring. The Justice Department, for example, will appoint observers under the 1965 Voting Rights Act who are geared mainly toward guaranteeing that minority voters are not interfered with at the ballot box. This third group of monitors will be sent to precincts that officials deem most at risk of voting access violations.

"The effort in more recent years is to have teams in place and procedures in place so problems can be dealt with," said Paul Hancock, a former Justice Department voting rights attorney now in private practice.

At the same time, Hancock added, "you've got to have balance. You want to be able to deal with any group that comes in and tries to intimidate voters. But you don't want the place loaded with police officers because some people see that as a form of intimidation as well."

If any violations such as those happen this year and the election result is close in that particular state, teams of lawyers from both sides and many of the interest groups are posed to head to the courts.

"Everybody is just so concerned that something could go wrong that they're geared up to deal with it," Hancock said.

Category: FNM in the News

JACKSONVILLE, Fla. — Before the supervisor of elections opened the main polling site here in Duval County at 7 a.m., a line of almost 100 people had already formed, snaking its way along the sidewalk of a strip-mall parking lot.

All but three voters in line were black. As they waited, they held hands and prayed.

“Our father, our God,” began the Rev. R.L. Gundy of Mount Sinai Missionary Baptist Church. “Our ancestors paid a dear price to have a right to vote, and we don’t take it for granted. Yet the enemy does all it can to disenfranchise us. God, go with us into these polls and every poll around the country.”

He continued, “We are not fearful. We are not afraid. We will not be turned away.”

And the crowd said a somber “Amen.”

Then, in a more jubilant mood, someone screamed, “Fired up?” And a chant began: “Ready to vote!”

“Fired up” … “Ready to vote” …”Fired up” … “Ready to vote” …

Many of the black voters who gathered here Saturday morning, the first day of early voting in Florida, had spent the night sleeping in tents and recreational vehicles near the elections office. Their plan was to “Occupy the Polls” in an effort to raise awareness about changes to early voting this year that shorten the number of days for casting ballots.

Mr. Gundy, the Florida president of the Southern Christian Leadership Conference, helped organize the camping and “blessing of the polls” out of a sense of outrage that the state took away the Sunday before Election Day as an option for early voting. Early voting will end next Saturday.

The Sunday before Election Day had been the main day for churches in Florida to get their “souls to the polls,” a tradition for many black congregations. In 2008, when Barack Obama won the presidency, black turnout was particularly strong across Florida on the Sunday before Election Day.

“They’re trying to turn back the hands of time,” Mr. Gundy said. “They knew that was an important day for us. They knew minorities tended to vote on the Sunday before Election Day. But we’re not going to let that foolishness stop us.”

First in line when the doors to the polls swung open was the track team from Edward Waters College — four women — and their coach, Archie Gallon. They had come in a van in the pre-dawn darkness.

“I wanted to sleep late, but I also thought it was important to be here,” said Amber Durrett, 19. “Very exciting. We’re voting for the first time.”

Others in the crowd had been organized by Florida New Majority, a get-out-the-vote organization that helped bring churches, black fraternal groups and others together to “Occupy the Polls.”

With Hurricane Sandy churning up the Atlantic Ocean off the coast, the winds were gusty and cool. People kept warm with McDonald’s coffee, doughnuts and breakfast sandwiches.

As the line grew and grew, a woman took a megaphone and announced, “You are not waiting in vain!”

Three Romney supporters showed up with signs. One said he hoped to “convert” the crowd. The group held their Romney-Ryan signs during the blessing, but also held hands in prayer.

“It’s a Southern thing,” said Hank Lengfellner, a retired land surveyor who was one of the Romney supporters. “I want to see everybody vote, I do. But I want to see informed voters vote.”

Asked why he had come to this particular poll, in a predominantly black area, Mr. Lengfellner and his friend Rick Hartley, who are white, said it was about convenience. “We’re early people,” Mr. Lengfellner said.

But Mr. Hartley seemed keen to ruffle a few feathers. He asked one of the Occupy organizers, Representative Corrine Brown, a Democrat of Jacksonville, if he could take a picture with her holding his Romney sign. She refused. He asked again, then asked others.

There were mumbles about why this man had come here to have his picture taken.

Eventually, someone snapped a shot of Mr. Hartley and Ms. Brown, but without the political sign.

By 7:30 a.m., the crowd had grown to about 200 people, almost all of them black. There were whole families, college students, and groups of the elderly who had come together from retirement villages. In the parking lot outside the polls, they sang, “When the Saints Go Marching In,” but with a few lyrics changed to express support for President Obama.

“Oh, I want to be in his number.”

Now the sun was up, trying to break through a thick layer of clouds threatening rain.

“Good morning!” a poll worker, Shaela Manning, greeted those standing in line. “Everybody make sure you have a picture I.D. available. Our polls are officially open.”

This article was published in the New York Times. View the full article here »

Category: FNM in the News

As the fifth day of early voting gets underway, the Florida Division of Elections says Democrats have opened a significant lead over Republicans in total ballots cast, by a 48,600 margin. Overall, Democrats have 118,000 more early votes than the GOP. With the Nov. 6 election five days away, 30 percent of Florida voters have already cast ballots via absentee or early voting.

How have Dems built an early vote lead this year? In part through grass roots groups like the Florida New Majority, which has mobilized thousands of volunteers -- and now has created the best (OK only) Romney-zombiepocalypse ad of the season.

The ad, which was shot in a cheesy '80s horror B-movie style, warns citizens that the only way to stop the Romney virus is to get out and vote for Obama. 

"We are one of the main lines in the get the vote effort for Obama," says Gihan Perera, Florida New Majority's executive director. "We are training thousands of people to get involved and stay involved. We think it is important not to treat elections like hurricanes that blow through every two, four years."

On a recent afternoon, a half-dozen middle-aged women of African-American and Hispanic descent gather pamphlets and flyers inside an old retail store building on 83rd Street and Biscayne Boulevard that serves as Florida New Majority's HQ. The goal, Perera says, is to turn out in force to counter the aggressive voter suppression campaign by the Republican Party in the state.

On Saturday, the first day of early voting, the Florida New Majority brought in Rev. Al Sharpton to visit multiple precincts. The organization also mobilized street marches from local parks to early voting sites in Little Haiti and Liberty City. Earlier this week, the organization launched its Romney Zombie Apocolypse social media campaign centered around a short YouTube video that depicts Miami-Dade being overrun by flesh-eating Republican voters.

"With so many serious political ads bombarding voters, the zombie campaign was a way to have fun," Perera says. "Besides, Mitt Romney does look like Herman Munster and Paul Ryan looks like Eddie Munster."

Category: FNM in the News

TALLAHASSEE — A frenzy of phone calls, social media posts and house-to-house door-knocking is consuming the presidential race’s final days, as the data-rich campaigns of Barack Obama and Mitt Romney lock into a desperate fight to push voters to the polls in swing state Florida.

The National Rifle Association, tea party groups and social conservatives are leading efforts for Romney, while labor unions and the NAACP are those aiding Obama in the homestretch.

Both camps also are dispatching allies this week to woo Hispanics, women and students.

The ground war to mobilize voters is escalating by the hour as each side acknowledges the effort may prove decisive in settling the drum-tight presidential contest in the nation’s biggest battleground state.

A Quinnipiac University poll Wednesday showed Obama leading 48-47 percent over Romney, an edge within the survey’s margin of error. Pollsters said the race in Florida is too close to call.

“We are trying to touch voters at least seven times,” said Gary Marx, national executive director of the Faith and Freedom Coalition, which has 160 volunteers scattered across Florida urging social conservatives to the polls.

“That might mean, three pieces of mail, three phone calls and a visit from a volunteer,” Marx said. “It’s now all about marketing. You use the same tactic whether it’s introducing a McRib sandwich or getting voters to think about voting for Mitt Romney.”

The Faith and Freedom Coalition, started by former Christian Coalition leader Ralph Reed, has launched a get-out-the-evangelical vote effort across 15 key states including Florida, aimed at increasing turnout for Romney.

Romney had a three-city fly-around Wednesday in Florida, his second such tour in five days.

The Obama campaign this week held early voting events targeting women, college students and minorities.

Obama skipped a Monday rally at the University of Central Florida as Hurricane Sandy raged in the Northeast, but former President Bill Clinton campaigned in his place.

Michelle Obama is scheduled today to visit three cities in Florida, including a Jacksonville appearance with Stevie Wonder. Jesse Jackson stumped in Daytona Beach on Wednesday.

Democratic-allied organizations are targeting black and younger voters by reminding them about Florida’s new election laws that reduced early voting from 14 days to eight and made it tougher for voters, such as college students, who move from one county to another, to cast ballots.

Florida New Majority, a Democratic-leaning group, is pinpointing what it calls “low-propensity” voters, who only occasionally participate in elections.

Since June, executive director Gihan Perera said, his volunteers have been trying to make at least three in-person contacts with black, Hispanic and lower-income voters identified as less-likely to cast ballots.

Pledges have been collected from 44,000 of those people contacted.

“We think that if we move that 44,000 people who are not counted by anybody and get them to the polls, that can make the big difference in this election, as tight as it is,” Perera said.

Jose Mallea, southeast regional director for the Libre Initiative, a Hispanic advocacy organization, has been sending volunteers to Orlando and Jacksonville, promoting business entrepreneurship that mirrors themes of the Romney campaign.

“We don’t promote one candidate,” Mallea said. “But if a voter asks, we will show how the candidates’ positions are different.”

Paul Conway, president of Generation Opportunity, said his nonprofit organization has contacted 140,000 college-age and young professionals in Florida as part of its get-out-the-vote effort.

Generation Opportunity isn’t supporting either presidential candidate, Conway said. But it has found young voters are concerned about the lack of job opportunities, increased federal spending and the national debt.

“We are trying to get these millennial to take a pledge to go vote,” Conway said.

The nonpartisan National Coalition of Black Civil Participation is targeting black voters under 35, who make up 40 percent of black voters, and women.

“If the young people don’t vote and black women don’t vote, that’s a bad year for the black vote,” said NCBCP President Melanie Campbell. “So for us, it’s very, very targeted in terms of turnout.”

The science of the campaign ground game has improved in recent years as both Democrats and Republicans embrace hard lessons learned in the 2000 presidential race in Florida, when George W. Bush won the White House by 537 votes.

Four years later, Bush easily defeated Democrat John Kerry in Florida after presidential adviser Karl Rove developed a strategy of driving turnout in the state’s rural and newly developed suburban counties.

A 456,000-vote increase in these regions fueled Bush’s winning margin. In just five counties – Brevard, Polk, Lake, Hillsborough and Pasco – Bush gained 99,000 votes over his 2000 performance, Democratic analysts concluded.

“We’ve taken the 2004 Bush model, put in 2012 technology, and have created a turnout effort on steroids,” said Brett Doster, a Romney campaign senior strategist in Florida.

Doster said the Romney supporters have made 10.5 million voter contacts in Florida, recently at a pace of as many as 1.5 million per-week.

In response to Obama’s strong 2008 turnout, which helped him carry the state, Romney is putting more attention into non-traditional GOP voting pockets, Doster said.

“We’re looking at non-Cuban Hispanics, rural registered Democrats in the Panhandle, and Jewish voters in Southeast Florida,” Doster said. “If we can get those voters, it’s a two-fer. We gain one, and the Obama campaign loses one.”

U.S. Rep. Ted Deutch, D-Boca Raton, scoffed at such tactics while meeting early voters Wednesday in Delray Beach with former Florida Gov. Charlie Crist, an ex-Republican now campaigning for Obama.

But when asked about “Obama Oy Vey,” and other anti-Obama, Jewish-voter-targeted billboards in Palm Beach County, Deutch was dismissive. “They’re wasting their money,” he said.

Through Tuesday, the state’s Division of Elections reported that more than 2.6 million Floridians had cast ballots by mail or in-person. Registered Democrats accounted for 43 percent of the vote; Republicans 40 percent and non-party registrants another 17 percent.

Republicans lead in absentee ballots cast. But Democrats dominate in early voting – a trend the Obama campaign said will continue and is expected to be supplemented by the arrival of those sporadic voters it targeted.

“We think this race is a dead heat down here with likely voters,” said Obama senior adviser David Plouffe. “There’s a whole bunch of people that aren’t saying they’re not going to vote, they’re just not sure.

“We’ve got to find them and we’ve got to convince them to vote,” Plouffe said.

This article was published in the Palm Beach Post. View full article here »

Category: FNM in the News

MIAMI (CBSMiami) – A coalition of voter protection groups gathered on the steps of the Miami-Dade and Orange County courthouses Monday urgently calling for an independent task force be created to investigate what went wrong in Florida on Election Day and the early voting period.

“It is clear that Florida’s 2012 election process was shameful and unacceptable,” said Maribel Balbin, president of the Miami Dade League of Women Voters.  “The state simply can’t afford to be in the national spotlight once again to be the butt of late night comedy, the national punch line, for dysfunctional elections.”

The League, along with the AARP, National Congress of Black Women, Labor Council for Latin American Advancement, Florida Institute for Reform and Education and Florida Coalition on Black Civic Participation are calling on Gov. Rick Scott to form a “multi-partisan task force” of state leaders who would draft reforms and have them ready at least two weeks before the Florida Legislature convenes in March.

“Somebody has to be accountable for what happened on Election Day,” said Equality Florida’s Nadine Smith. “And somebody has to be accountable for fixing what happened on Election Day.”

The outrage follows some of the longest lines in South Florida history to vote, yet lacked in turnout percentages for a presidential election.

“We know how hard some of our supervisors of elections worked but they were fighting an uphill battle and that’s unacceptable,” said Balbin.

The uphill battle was House Bill 1355.  It was proposed and passed in 2011 by Miami’s own Miguel Diaz de la Portilla, a Senator who has been ducking calls from CBS4 News for two weeks.

“We tried it.  It didn’t work.  Can we go back and fix it from here?” said Balbin.

HB 1355 decreased the number of early voting days by six and limited what could be used as an early voting site. The coalition of voter protection groups is now asking the governor for a task force, similar to one formed following the 2000 election fiasco.

“A budget for staff and resources, a timeline, deliver recommendations before the session starts, leadership.  It needs to be a bipartisan trusted group of citizens,” demanded Balbin.

If change doesn’t happen the League of Women Voters says they’ll march into the courthouse, and file a lawsuit to force it.

“People understand that what happened is completely inexcusable, totally unacceptable, and absolutely fixable,” said Smith.

Gov. Scott has proposed a task force headed by his own Florida Division of Elections chief Ken Detzner.

Other organizations, Florida New Majority, Florida Immigrant Coalition, AFL-CIO, Advancement Project, AFSCME, and SEIU Florida State Council are also banding together to tell Tallahassee lawmakers to make sure this election debacle doesn’t happen again.

They want a longer early voting period, more early voting locations, and a stronger effort to help minority voters.

Miami Gardens democratic State Sen. Oscar Brayon said he’ll sponsor legislation based on the recommendations.

When asked for a statement regarding Tuesday’s call for election reform, Gov. Rick Scott released the same statement he released on Saturday regarding the results for the 2012 general election.

“Around 8.5 million Floridians voted in this general election – more votes cast than in any other election in state history. A record of nearly 4.8 million Floridians also voted early and absentee ballots. We are glad that so many voters made their voices heard in this election, but as we go forward we must see improvements in our election process. I have asked Secretary of State Ken Detzner to review this general election and report on ways we can improve the process after all the races are certified. As part of this evaluation, Secretary Detzner will meet with County Election Supervisors, who are elected or appointed to their position – especially those who ran elections in counties where voters experienced long lines of four hours or more. We need to make improvements for Florida voters and it is important to look at processes on the state and the county level. We will carefully review suggestions for bettering the voting process in our state.”

Category: FNM in the News

If Gov. Rick Scott and the Republican controlled-Legislature thought voting rights groups would vanish after Election Day, they were wrong.

Representatives from the Florida New Majority, Advancement Project, Florida Immigrant Coalition, the AFL-CIO and some Democratic lawmakers announced Monday during a teleconference with reporters that they would push for an overhaul of Florida’s election system as well as a possible investigation by a an entity from outside of the state.

“I don’t believe the Legislature or the Republican governor will do anything to help the democratic process here in Florida,” said Sen. Oscar Braynon, D-Miami Gardens. “The governor putting together a task force is like the guy who stabbed you in the heart saying, ‘Ok, let me operate on you.’”

Florida was a “voting disaster area,” said Jennifer Farmer, a spokeswoman for the Advancement Project, a Washington D.C. non-profit. Scott and Republican lawmakers intentionally made it harder to register voters and allow them to vote by cutting access to early voting poll sites, Farmer said.

About 250,000 fewer people cast ballots in early voting compared to 2008, Farmer said, making it causing the longer regular voting lines that plagued counties like Miami-Dade.

A new law passed last year limiting early voting was a “wish list of things to do to make sure Barack Obama doesn’t get reelected,” said Rep. Darren Soto, D-Orlando who was elected state senator last week. The group will push for nine reforms, but if they aren’t followed, “we’ll end up back in court,” Soto said.

Here’s the list:

We are calling for a Florida Voter Bill of Rights that includes:

  1. Reinstate Early Voting days cut by Governor Scott and members of the Florida legislature.  Require early voting for at least 14 days, including weekends and the last Sunday before Election Day, as well as ensure voting for 12 hours each day.
  2. More early voting sites.  There should be at least one early voting site plus one additional for every 65,000 registered voters in the each county.
  3. Local discretion in determining early voting sites.  Supervisors of Elections should have discretion to choose the best sites for Early Voting and Election Day based upon local needs.
  4. Increased polling place resources.  A formula should be used to ensure an adequate number of voters, poll workers, machines, privacy booths, scanners, printers and translators per polling place.
  5. Better voter assistance and bilingual access.  Improved voter assistance and translation at the polls is necessary to ensure every voter has the right to vote a complete ballot with full understanding.  
  6. Ensure provisional ballots are counted.  Provisional ballots cast in the wrong precinct or polling place should be counted for non-precinct related elections i.e., countywide, statewide and federal offices.
  7. Provide adequate notice of polling location.  Voters should be informed of polling locations at least 30 days before an election.  Ultimately, on Election Day voters should be able to cast a ballot in any polling location within their county of residence.   
  8. A representative Community Advisory Board including voters of color, low-income voters, persons with disabilities, and the elderly.  Rather than the state changing voting laws in ways that decrease access and discriminate, the people of Florida should have open channels to government officials to communication what is needed to ensure free, fair and accessible elections so all eligible citizens can vote.

This article was originally published by the Miami Herald. Read the full article here ».

Category: FNM in the News

A coalition of unions, civil rights groups and left-leaning organizations is demanding a rewrite of Florida’s election laws and is seeking a federal inquiry into long lines during early voting and on Election Day.

“Now marks 12 years of Florida being a voting disaster area,” said Judith Browne Dianis, co-director of the Advancement Project that sued the state on behalf of the NAACP after the 2000 presidential debacle. “We will be looking into further investigating what happened in Florida in 2012 just like we did in 2000.”

The Advancement Project, Florida New Majority Education Fund, two Democratic state senators and the union representing state workers said on a conference call with reporters today that long lines voters faced on Election Day and during early voting appeared to disproportionately impact minority voters who typically vote for Democrats.

That proves that lawmakers were seeking to suppress Democratic turnout with HB 1355, a sweeping election bill passed last year that shrank the number of early voting days and affected voters who move from one county to another.

“It’s increasingly coming out that this was not just a case of misadministration or bad management,” said Gihan Perera, executive director of Florida New Majority.

Perera pointed to a Palm Beach Post report that found that the architect of HB 1355, Republican Party of Florida general counsel Emmett “Bucky” Mitchell, was also a senior lawyer at the state Division of Elections in 2000 and was the mastermind of the error-riddled felon voter purge list.

“As more and more of this comes out, it appears a systematic effort to suppress voters. And that is a crime against democracy. There needs to be investigations about what happened and why, whether that be the Department of Justice, congressional hearings or the UN,” he said. “But people who are responsible for making this not a democracy need to be held accountable.”

The coalition is asking lawmakers to repeal HB 1355 and:
- Reinstate the 14-day early voting period and extend the number of voting hours each day to 12;
- Allow more early voting sites based on the number of voters in each county;
- Give county elections supervisors more flexibility with early voting site locations, now restricted to elections offices, public libraries and city halls;
- Permit people voting outside of their precinct to vote a regular ballot on statewide or county-wide races.

But state Sen. Oscar Braynon, a Miami Gardens Democrat who saw long lines in many precincts in his district, said he holds little hope that the Republican-dominated legislature, which passed the elections bill over the objections of Democrats, and Gov. Rick Scott, who signed the bill into law, would make the changes.

Scott also refused to extend early voting hours despite long lines, Braynon said. The Justice Department has oversight of the Voting Rights Act, which includes provisions making it unlawful to discriminate against minorities in elections.

“One of the first steps is to file a complaint with the federal government, whether it be with the Department of Justice on the Voting Rights Act violation. I think the intent was there and I think we may have it rise to the level of a federal investigation as to was this actually intended voter suppression with a full conspiracy and everything,” Braynon said. “As much as I believe that my colleagues in the legislature believe in democracy, I just don’t believe that the governor, as he has proven with his reaction to the long lines and also with the signing of and why 1355 was even created, that they’re going to assist us with this effort.”

Some elections officials blamed the long lines not only the shortened early voting period but on the lengthy ballot which included 11 proposed constitutional amendments placed on the ballot by the GOP-dominated legislature. In Palm Beach County during early voting, the ballots had to be printed individually, add to the logjam.

This article was published in the Palm Beach Post. Read the full article here »

Category: FNM in the News

South Florida Democratic candidates who had no reason to expect victory are preparing to be sworn in to office now thanks to the votes of people whom the pollsters largely ignored: unlikely voters.

One election post-mortem from the liberal nonprofit America Votes suggests unlikely voters cast 34 percent of the early and mail-in absentee votes during this election, propelling liberal Democrats such as Jose Javier Rodriguez of Miami and State Senator Maria Sachs of Boca Raton unexpectedly to the winners' circle.

Novice candidate Rodriguez won 53.7 percent of the vote to beat formidable political family member Alex Diaz de la Portilla to the District 112 state house seat. Sachs defeated tough Republican Ellyn Bogdanoff with 52.8 percent in a redrawn district that created the Senate's only incumbent-on-incumbent match-up.

An unlikely voter, says America Votes Florida director Josh Geise, is one who scores below 80 on a zero-to-100 scale of voting history, age, ethnicity, neighborhood and other factors that measure the propensity for voting. The likely voter model in use by several polling organizations uses only three elements: voting history, the voter's self-described intention to vote and his or her enthusiasm for the campaign.

The task for Democratic ground-gamers was to goad the unlikelys out of their torpor and campaigners say Republican legislators and Gov. Rick Scott made that easy with the voting law they passed in 2011.

"The (voter roll) purges, the crackdown on early voting -- all those things that were an attempt to make those voters even less likely to vote -- those things really ticked people off," says Gihan Perera, who runs the political nonprofit Florida New Majority. FNM staff and volunteers made calls and knocked on doors for Rodriguez, Sachs and other Democrats around the state.

"People don't like to be erased. Even if it was something they weren't going to do, they don't want the right to do it taken away," Perera said.

FNM also contributed manpower and data to winning Democratic Senate candidates Dwight Bullard of Miami and Darren Soto of Orlando.

America Votes was unable to say whether the turnout of unlikely voters was unusual. Geise said there isn't enough data from previous elections to run the statistical model it uses to separate likelys from unlikelys.

Prominent among the cohort of the unlikely were Latin voters under 50, who were particular targets of FNM's campaign. In Rodriguez's District 112, which comprises parts of Little Havana, Coconut Grove, Coral Gables and Key Biscayne, they had wearied of traditional Miami politics and dropped out, according to Perera. He thinks getting them re-engaged made Rodriguez' win one of the most important victories of the campaign.

Rodriguez is headed for Tallahassee as a junior member of the out-of-power party. But he thinks all of those votes from the formerly jaded, apathetic and unlikely will make a difference in the capital.

"I think the character of the Legislature is not going to resemble the last two years," Rodriguez said. "I think there's going to be a lot of pushback on the governor than in the last two years."

Originally published on WLRN.org. View full article here.

Category: FNM in the News

Tallahassee, Florida - November 20, 2012

A group of voters who experienced long lines and other avoidable difficulties in voting during the November election will gather in the fourth floor rotunda of the Florida State Capitol building Tuesday morning, as legislators arrive to be sworn in and attend organizational meetings.

About a dozen voters, identified by Florida New Majority, Florida Immigrant Coalition and other partners urging reforms to voting in Florida, will stand in the gallery with placards indicating how long they waited in line to vote. The mute appeal underscores the value of the vote as the only voice most people have in the democratic process.

"We just want the legislators to recognize that we are upset about the disaster we all experienced," said Angie Nixon, a community organizer with Florida New Majority. "We're asking them not to forget about the voters when they are passing laws. They need to fix this."

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Category: Press Releases