One of us came to this country from Haiti for a better life arriving at age 79 and toiling hard as a farmworker. The other arrived on these shores at age four from Sri Lanka. Both of us were weaned on an American dream of democracy and equality.

Voting is the defining moment where that dream begins. Being able to have a voice in our nation inspired us to vote. One of us is now 42 years old. The other is 102, but that did not stand in the way of us exercising our civic duty last fall. Neither one of us dreamed it would be so hard.

One of us tried to vote twice, but the lines were so long that voting absentee became the best choice. The other’s story inspired President Barack Obama to invite Desiline to join First Lady Michelle Obama for the State of the Union address. We almost cried when the president told the story.

As Desiline shares it: “Although I had arrived at my polling place early in the morning, the line already stretched for many blocks, and the wait time was up to six hours. When more than three hours passed, I began to struggle on my feet, and a concerned poll worker asked me to come back later. On my second visit, I was finally able to cast my ballot. It should not take two visits and hours of waiting for anyone, let alone someone who’s 102 years old, to exercise this basic act of democracy.”

Voting for us is especially urgent. As immigrants, we know that there are many families that have been approved for visas but are stuck waiting for years before they can come see their relatives in the United States. It is Desiline’s dream to have her family members visit her before she makes that journey to the other side. We hope that President Obama will instruct the Department of Homeland Security to create a Haitian Family Reunification Program immediately. We want to make sure that Desiline can see her loved ones before she dies, and we would like to see laws passed that make voting more convenient and fair.

For hundreds of thousands of citizens throughout Florida, exercising their right to vote became an endurance test. At some polling places, people faced lines as long as eight hours. A recent study found that at least 200,000 Florida voters gave up in frustration over the long lines, and left without voting. This is a crime.

The problems with Florida elections did not happen by accident. We both know Gov. Rick Scott and the Legislature enacted new laws that made it harder to vote. This included a law placing new requirements and penalties that were so prohibitive on voter registration drives that many groups shut down their voter registration operations in Florida. One of the main factors behind the long lines was Scott’s decision to cut the early voting period nearly in half.

It is time for true election reform in Florida, so that all eligible citizens who take the responsibility toparticipate in our democracy can cast a ballot and know it counts. Florida New Majority and a coalition of community organizations propose common sense recommendations to correct electoral dysfunction in Florida. That starts with enshrining an affirmative right to vote into state law, which would protect against partisan tampering and any form of discrimination in our elections.

To prevent those outrageous wait times again, the state must restore early voting to 14 days, including the Sunday before Election Day, and guarantee voting for at least 12 hours each day. The voter registration process in Florida must also be modernized, to let more eligible voters have their say. Giving voters the choice to register online would add hundreds of thousands of voters to the rolls.

Allowing people to update their registration address at their polling place when they move across county lines would ensure that no one loses the right to vote because they move, and automatic registration of every citizen who turns 18 would encourage participation. An eligible voter should be a registered voter — period.

Some say that the story of a 102-year-old woman pulling out all the stops in order to vote is inspiring. But it is shameful that anyone would be forced to wait in line for hours to participate in their own democracy. We must do more in Florida to ensure that elections are free, fair and accessible for all.

Desiline Victor is a Haitian American living in North Miami, who attended the State of the Union address. Gihan Perera is the executive director of Florida New Majority, a statewide civic participation and human rights organization.

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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 View full article here.

Category: FNM in the News