LEGISLATURE

Voting rights groups lambaste Florida GOP’s election law rewrite

 

Herald/Times Tallahassee Bureau

Voting rights groups blasted the Florida Legislature on Monday for an elections bill that could violate federal law by making it harder for non-English speaking voters to get help at the polls.

The advocates said Republican lawmakers are trying to impose new barriers to voting and they aimed their opposition squarely at Sen. Jack Latvala, R-Clearwater, architect of HB 7013, which requires anyone seeking to help a voter must previously be known to the voter and no one can help more than 10 voters in an election.

“It impacts people who are elderly, people with disabilities and people who do not speak English as their primary language,” said Gihan Perera, executive director of Florida New Majority, a Miami group that said it assisted thousands of voters in 2012. “This has dire consequences, especially for Florida’s communities of color such as Latino, Asian and Haitian-American citizens who routinely depend on language assistance.”

Perera said that when people waited for up to eight hours in November to vote in Miami-Dade, his group trained Creole-speaking ballot assistors to help voters complete affidavits required for anyone seeking help in voting — a solution that is illegal under Latvala’s proposal. Miami-Dade and Broward counties have the state’s only trilingual ballots (English, Spanish and Creole).

Joining in the criticism were the Florida Immigrant Coalition, SEIU Local 1199 and the Florida State Conference of the NAACP and the Advancement Project. The NAACP and SEIU, a union for health care workers, are strong supporters of Democrats.

Katherine Culliton-Gonzalez of the Advancement Project said the federal Voting Rights Act of 1965 protects the rights of voters to seek assistance at the polls from volunteers and community organizers, whether they know them or not.

Latvala said he added the provision solely on the recommendation of J.C. Planas, a former Republican House member from Miami and a lawyer who specializes in election law cases.

“It’s become kind of a political tool in many areas to have folks who stay at the precincts all day offering their services to help people go in and vote, and in many cases in an intimidating fashion,” Latvala said. He said the bill preserves the right of any voter to have “your grandchild, or your sister, or someone that you’re familiar with, go to the polls with you.”

The Senate has scheduled a final vote on the bill for Wednesday, which would then send it back to the House.

The voting rights advocates also renewed their call for mandatory 14 days of early voting, including on the Sunday before the election. Lawmakers plan to require eight days of early voting for eight hours each day with six extra days and a maximum of 12 hours each day at the discretion of election supervisors.

Perera said early voting on the Sunday before Election Day, known as “souls to the polls,” was especially popular among African-American churches, and he called it “a tradition in the state.” But the Legislature outlawed it in its controversial 2011 election bill and the proposal under consideration this session would make it optional.

Sen. Chris Smith, D-Fort Lauderdale, leader of the Senate’s 14 Democrats, wrote a commentary in the South Florida Sun-Sentinel in which he called the GOP-crafted elections bill “an opportunity lost.”

Read more Florida stories from the Miami Herald

Miami Herald

Join the
Discussion

The Miami Herald is pleased to provide this opportunity to share information, experiences and observations about what's in the news. Some of the comments may be reprinted elsewhere on the site or in the newspaper. We encourage lively, open debate on the issues of the day, and ask that you refrain from profanity, hate speech, personal comments and remarks that are off point. Thank you for taking the time to offer your thoughts.

The Miami Herald uses Facebook's commenting system. You need to log in with a Facebook account in order to comment. If you have questions about commenting with your Facebook account, click here.

Have a news tip? You can send it anonymously. Click here to send us your tip - or - consider joining the Public Insight Network and become a source for The Miami Herald and el Nuevo Herald.

Hide Comments

This affects comments on all stories.

Cancel OK

  • Marketplace

Today's Circulars

  • Quick Job Search

Enter Keyword(s) Enter City Select a State Select a Category