Rev. Jesse Jackson Jr. and leaders in Florida have embarked on a two-day campaign to build awareness among African-American voters and local lawmakers in the state about the impact that the proposed new voting regulations would have on minorities and low-income people.
“The irony is we fight wars for democracy abroad and declare war on democracy at home,” Jackson said during a news conference before a rally at the New Covenant Baptist Church of Orlando Monday night. “All we really want is an even playing field.”
Rev. Randolph Bracy, whose church hosted the Monday night rally, said that Jackson will be a key catalyst in getting people to think about this issue and recognize what’s at risk. The rally sought to “wake up the community” and was the first of what Bracy hopes will be several more voter awareness events and activities. Similar rallies took place Monday morning in Eatonville and in Tampa Tuesday afternoon.
Bracy also described Florida as “Ground Zero” in the voting rights debate that is taking place across the nation because it is a critical swing state during presidential election cycles. Additionally, a large swath of the state that determines whether a candidate will win there also is home to a significant number of African-Americans and Latinos. He and others want elected officials to know that there is going to be “a lot of pushback” from the African-American community against new voting laws around the nation.
Five Florida counties are covered by Section 5 of the 1965 Voting Rights Act, which requires the Justice Department to pre-clear voting law changes. A group of civil rights groups, including the Brennan Center for Justice and the Lawyers’ Committee for Civil Rights Under the Law, have written to the Department of Justice, urging the agency to reject Florida’s new law.
If enacted, the groups say, the changes would make it more difficult for citizens and grassroots organizations to conduct voter registration drives because of rules that would, for example, require that they turn in all of the registration forms within 48 hours after they’ve been signed. The League of Women Voters, which registers hundreds of thousands of voters during general election cycles, has already said that the new rules are too burdensome to continue registering new voters in Florida.
“The state is getting rid of a practice that has been relied on by minority citizens for a long time. Voter registration groups like the NAACP and the League of Women Voters are now under some really onerous restrictions,” said Marcia Johnson-Blanco, co-director of the Lawyers’ Committee’s voting rights program.
The law also would reduce the state’s early voting period. It is a tradition at many local churches in the state’s urban areas to get members to go to the polls after services on the Sunday before Election Day.
“Early voting ensures that every eligible voter has every opportunity to vote. The law would restrict their opportunity and availability to get to the ballot box,” Johnson-Blanco said.
The American Civil Liberties Union and Project Vote also are challenging the law and have filed a lawsuit in a Miami federal court.
(Photo: Joe Burbank/Orlando Sentinel/MCT)