Advisory: Florida Latino Leaders Urge Congressional Delegation to Take Swift Action on the Voting Rights Amendment Act

Categories: Press Releases

For Immediate Release
Contact: Shin Inouye, 202.869.0398, inouye@civilrights.org

Click here to listen to this call, which has already occurred: http://dl2.newmediamill.net/media/lccr/FloridaLatinosVRAACall060214.mp3

Florida – On Monday, June 2nd from 11:00 AM to 11:45 AM EDT, leaders from Florida’s diverse Latino communities will host a telephonic press conference urging the Florida congressional delegation to move the Voting Rights Amendment Act (VRAA) forward. On the call, speakers will discuss the critical need to protect Florida voters from discrimination and highlight recent instances of voter discrimination in the state. 

Last June in Shelby County v. Holder, the Supreme Court invalidated a key section of the Voting Rights Act. As part of the decision, the Supreme Court invited Congress to revise the VRA to provide for protections against voting discrimination that reflect current circumstances. Despite bipartisan support, the House Judiciary Committee has failed to move the VRAA forward and today the rights of millions of voters are in jeopardy.

The VRAA would provide flexible, modern tools to get ahead of voting discrimination before it occurs and ensure that any proposed election changes are transparent. These needed protections would apply in Florida and across the country.

WHO:   

  • Erin Hustings, Senior Policy Analyst, NALEO Educational Fund
  • Luz Urbaez Weinberg Aventura, FL City Councilmember [Miami-Area]
  • Christopher Cano, Director for Civic Involvement, the League of United Latin American Citizens (LULAC) [Tampa Bay-Area]
  • Reverend Mark Vega, National Evangelical Latino Coalition [Gainesville-Area]
  • John Garcia, Director of Communications and Community Engagement, Latino Justice Puerto Rican Legal Defense and Education Fund (PRLDEF)

DIAL-IN INFORMATION: Please RSVP to Simpson@civilrights.org. Dial-in number is 866-952-7535. Passcode is “Voting.”

WHEN: Monday, June 2nd from 11:00 AM to 11:45 AM EDT

BACKGROUND MATERIAL:  Below are examples of recent instances of voting discrimination in Florida. 

A Snapshot of Recent Discrimination in Voting in Florida

In Shelby Co. v. Holder, Chief Justice Roberts and a majority of the Supreme Court opined that “no one doubts” that voting discrimination still exists.  The following incidents illustrate Florida’s record of voting discrimination in just the past ten years, and Floridians’ need for a fully effective Voting Rights Act in 2014 and beyond.

  • 2013:  Hernando County adopted a plan to close and consolidate voting locations, with a focus on the neighborhoods of the City of Brooksville.  The plan called for elimination of polling places for the general election, and consolidation of all Brooksville precincts into one.  While the African American citizen voting-age population of the County overall is about 4.5%, the citizen voting-age population affected by this change in polling places is nearly 22% African American.  There are neither any African Americans nor Latinos serving on the County Commission.
  • 2012:  Academic studies by Massachusetts Institute of Technology, University of Florida, and Dartmouth College professors of official data on polling place closing times revealed that the state’s African American and Latino voters on average waited about twice as long as white voters to cast ballots, and were twice as likely as white voters to wait at least 30 minutes to vote.  Racial disparities in wait times could not be explained by residential density nor by the length of the ballot in Florida in 2012:  inequities were observed across both urban and rural polling sites, and between polling locations within the same county at which all voters were completing the same ballot, but which served racially/ethnically distinct populations.  In addition, a study commissioned by the Orlando Sentinel estimated that more than 200,000 Florida voters made it to the polls but, facing long lines, gave up and left before casting ballots in 2012.  Voters who encountered long lines were disproportionately minorities.  Frustrated voters who could not wait in line and were effectively prevented from voting were, likewise, very likely disproportionately voters of color.
  • 2012:  State officials announced that they would scrutinize and attempt to remove from voter registration rolls persons suspected of not being United States citizens.  Of the more than 2000 Floridians who received letters questioning their qualifications as voters prior to suspension of this citizenship check initiative, more than 60% were Latino, even though Latinos constitute less than 20% of all eligible Florida voters.  The state initiated its verification plan using DMV records even though it knew that these records contain frequently outdated information on Floridians’ immigration status.  Moreover, checks on voters’ citizenship and identity often do effectively impose different burdens on voters according to their race and ethnicity because elections officials and poll workers have demonstrated a strong tendency to apply them discriminatorily.  According to a Nov. 2012 University of Chicago survey, 60.8% of Latino voters aged 18-29 were asked for identification documents at the polls, compared to 50.8% of white young people.  Similar conclusions about racial bias in requests for ID and other documentation have been reached by academic experts analyzing 2008 Cooperative Congressional Election Study data and the 2008 Survey of the Performance of American Elections, among other datasets.  Most recently, researchers at Harvard University discovered that elections officials treat Latino voters differently, and worse, than voters who do not seem to be Latino: the researchers’ test inquiries concerning voter identification laws were significantly less likely to be answered at all, and significantly less likely to be answered with accurate information, when sent from an apparently Latino voter than when sent from an apparently white, non-Latino voter.
  • 2012:  During the 2012 general election, volunteer translators/interpreters serving in Palm Beach County and Miami-Dade County were challenged by polling place observers who incorrectly asserted that translators were only permitted to assist a certain limited number of voters per hour or per day, and who also attempted to infringe upon the right, affirmed in Section 208 of the Voting Rights Act, to be assisted in voting by any person of a voter’s choice so long as the assistor is not the voter’s employer nor his/her union representative.  In Florida, the vast majority of Americans not fully fluent in English, who are delayed or prevented from casting informed ballots by attacks on language assistance such as those noted in 2012, are voters of color.  As of 2012, more than 73% of Floridians eligible to vote who were not fluent in English were Latino; another 7% were Asian Americans, and nearly 8% were black.
  • 2011:  The state legislature enacted onerous requirements and penalties applicable to voter registration drives conducted by non-governmental entities.  For example, the law provided that all completed registration forms had to be submitted to election officials within 48 hours or else those assisting voters with registration would incur fines of $1,000 per application.  These rules caused several respected non-profits to suspend their voter registration activities in Florida, precipitating a likely discriminatory result.  During the 2010 election cycle, 16% of registered Latino voters, 15% of African Americans, and 14% of Asian Americans reported having registered to vote using forms provided by a third party group like these non-profits, compared to just 10% of non-Hispanic white voters.  Though non-profits were able to resume their voter registration activities after a federal court ruled against the law in a Voting Rights Act suit, voters still felt its effects:  more than 81,000 fewer Floridians registered to vote between June 2011 and March 2012, when the law was in effect, than during the corresponding period preceding the 2008 election.  In 2008, 70.4% of Florida’s citizen voting-age population was registered to vote; in 2012, only 68.3% of eligible Floridians were registered.
  • 2009:  Only after its policy was challenged in court did the Town of Lake Park voluntarily agree to end its use of at-large elections to elect members to the Town Commission, where no African American candidate had ever been elected to the Commission in the Town’s history, stretching back to 1923, even though African Americans constituted 38% of the town’s citizen voting-age population.  The discriminatory effects of the use of at-large districts were magnified by historical incidence in the town of overt racial appeals in political campaigning, placement of polling places outside majority-minority neighborhoods, and exclusion of African American candidates from certain candidate slating processes.
  • 2008:  In Osceola County, the recent growth of the Latino community has been particularly rapid and visible.  By the mid-2000s, Latinos accounted for a large minority – 40% – of the County’s residents.  In spite of this, no Latino candidate had ever been elected to the County’s five-member school board.  Moreover, though the County voted in 2007 to scrap at-large electoral districts in favor of single-member school board districts, a large share of the Latino population was split between two of the proposed districts such that the sizable community of Latino voters would not have constituted a majority in any one of the five districts to be created.  In settling a complaint filed against it, the County acknowledged that the proposed single-member districts violated the Voting Rights Act, and agreed to create a Latino-majority district.  The first Latino member of the School Board won office in the first election held after the case was resolved, in August 2008.
  • 2006:  Historically, Latino candidates in Osceola County were unsuccessful in campaigns not only for the School Board, but also for seats on the County Commission.  Although the County required Commissioner candidates to live in residency districts, all Commissioners previously were elected at-large by all of the county’s voters.  Beginning in 1992, a shift to a single-member district voting system to give parity to the County’s burgeoning Latino population was repeatedly proposed and rejected, both by the Commission and by referendum.  In 2002, the County voluntarily agreed to improve election accessibility in order to settle a lawsuit based on evidence that poll officials had failed to communicate effectively with Spanish-speaking voters, unlawfully refused some Spanish-speaking voters assistance in voting from the person of their choice, and made hostile remarks to Latino voters; nonetheless, Latino candidates for countywide office continued to lose elections under the at-large electoral scheme, in an environment still marked by racial hostility.  In 2006, a federal court first ruled that the county’s at-large voting system violated the Voting Rights Act, and then rejected the County’s proposed solution, a mixed at-large/single-member district scheme.  In a 2007 Special Election implementing a new single-member-only plan, a Latino candidate finally won a seat on the Commission.