Senate Field Hearing Examines Barriers to Voting in Florida

Voting Rights 01.27,12

Recent changes and legislation affecting elections in Florida
will have a negative effect on voter participation, civil and human rights
advocates told members of the Senate Judiciary Committee’s Subcommittee on
the Constitution, Civil Rights and Human Rights during a
field hearing
held today in Tampa, Florida.

Reflecting concerns about
a pattern of recent and pending state laws restricting access to voting
testimony at the hearing focused in particular on Florida’s recently enacted HB
1355. Among other things, HB 1355 shortens the time for early voting and
creates administrative hurdles that discourage independent groups from carrying
out voter registration work in Florida.

In submitted
, Wade Henderson, president and CEO of The Leadership Conference
on Civil and Human Rights, challenged the necessity of laws such as HB 1355 and
said that governments should be acting to increase voter participation, not
suppress it.

“Although many historical barriers to voting—like property
requirements, literacy tests, and poll  taxes—are no longer
constitutional, for many Americans voter registration continues to be an
impediment,” said Henderson. “In 2008, 2.13 million voters registered in
Florida, at least 8.24 percent or 176, 000 of them did so through registration

And as Henderson pointed out, African Americans and Latinos
are more likely to register to vote through campaigns conducted in their
neighborhoods.  According to the Census Bureau, Henderson notes that “2.7
percent of black voters and 12.1 percent of Hispanic registered voters
registered through drives compared to only 6.3 percent of non-Hispanic white
registered voters in Florida.”

Given these facts, Henderson said that:

 … voter registration drives
conducted by nonpartisan, nonprofit organizations have dramatically increased
voter registration rates among groups that have traditionally faced the
greatest barriers to voting, including low-income, minority, and elderly.
Consequently, HB 1355’s dramatic impact on third-party registrations is poised
to have a significant impact on one of the  state’s key mechanisms in
achieving minority participation and access to the ballot.

ACLU, Demos, Project Vote/Voting for America, the Brennan Center for Justice, and Florida Consumer Action Network also submitted testimony for the hearing.

To learn more and find tools for protecting the right to vote,
visit Election Protection.