While Florida’s voter registration purge has drawn national attention in the past few weeks, there are other equally harmful policies being undertaken by the state, according to voting rights advocates.

“Florida’s recent discriminatory purge is but one aspect of its broader attempt to discourage political participation through the very channels that produced historic turnout in the previous two elections,” said Ryan P. Haygood, director of the Political Participation Group at NAACP Legal Defense Fund (LDF).

“Implementation of these additional discriminatory changes to Florida’s voting laws would be devastating for Black and other minority voters in the state.”

On June 21, in a hearing before a three-judge panel in the U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia, Florida sought approval for additional changes to its voting procedure under Section 5 of the Voting Rights Act.

The changes—which were approved by a Republican-led legislature and Republican Gov. Rick Scott—would put significant restrictions on organizations that conduct voter registration drives, would require voters who moved from one county to the next to file provisional ballots, would allow precincts to reduce their early voting hours and would reduce the number of early voting days from 12 to eight.

The eliminated days include the Sunday before election day when Black churches traditionally have transported voters directly to the polls via “Get Your Souls to the Polls” programs.

Five of the state’s counties are covered under Section 5, making it necessary for the federal government to vet all significant changes to the voting process to ensure they do not discriminate against minority voters.

“Those days do make a difference,” Justice Department attorney Elise Shore told the judges in her argument against the state’s election law changes, according to Reuters. She said the rules amount to a reversal of minority voters’ status which is at the center of the legal matter before the court.

According to the Justice Department and voting rights advocates, Florida’s new policy adversely impacts minority—especially Black—voters, who make up a large percentage of early voters. For example, during the 2008 election Blacks comprised nearly 20 percent of early voters, and nearly 55 percent of Black voters in Florida voted during the early voting period, according to the NAACP.

Arguing in defense of the new rules, attorney William Consovoy argued there was no evidence that a reduction in early voting reduced overall voter turnout and that the law is aimed at voter fraud, according to Reuters. None of the rules were directed at members of any minority or political party, he said.

Critics of Florida’s law—and others like it that are often GOP-sponsored—say they target minorities because they tend to vote Democratic.

Zenitha Prince

Special to the AFRO