SB 956 & HB 7149 Would Add Barriers to Voting for Floridians
FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE:
April 23, 2009
Brandon Hensler, Director of Communications, (786) 363-2737 or email@example.com
MIAMI – Today the ACLU of Florida sent a letter to Governor Crist urging him to veto SB 956 and HB 7149 if they make it to his desk. The letter also asks Governor Crist not to accept “a few changes to these bills as being adequate to address the serious concerns raised by the many organizations opposing them.”
The ACLU of Florida’s objections to the bills are wide-ranging, and mirror those objections raised in the joint letter that 42 Florida and national groups, including the ACLU of Florida, sent to Governor Crist yesterday.
However, today’s letter from the ACLU of Florida focuses on two specific provisions in the pending legislation (SB 956 and HB 7149). One provision further limits acceptable IDs, without proposing acceptable alternatives. The other provision expands the “no-solicitation zone,” creating a constantly shifting zone that would be impossible to enforce and make it virtually impossible for voters to receive critical nonpartisan voter rights information at the polling place. The ACLU of Florida has already successfully challenged the existing “no-solicitation zone” statute as applied to petition gathering from voters when they leave the polling place. In its letter, the ACLU states, “If Florida law is amended in the manner contemplated by these bills, the ACLU of Florida is prepared to take legal action. “
April 23, 2009
Via U.S. mail and electronic transmission: Charlie.Crist@MyFlorida.com
The Honorable Charlie Crist
Governor, State of Florida
400 S. Monroe St.
Tallahassee, FL 32399-0001
Re: Voter Suppression Bills in Florida
Dear Governor Crist:
On behalf of the 25,000 members of the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) of Florida, we respectfully urge you to express your opposition to the anti-democratic election bills that are being forced through the legislature, and to veto this legislation if it comes to your desk for signature.
In the past week, we have seen the Legislature act in a manner that flies in the face of your stated commitment to transparency in state government. With little notice, a strike-all amendment to SB 956 was introduced that, if passed, would do more damage to voting rights in Florida than we’ve seen since the 2000 election debacle. One day later, with only hours notice and after suppressing public debate, the House Economic Development & Community Affairs Policy Council passed a bill (HB 7149) that similarly suppresses voting rights. As bad as the legislation is, the stealth and secretive tactics the legislature used to push this legislation through are equally offensive.
Floridians are rightfully outraged, and have demanded that these anti-democratic voter suppression bills not be passed, and have asked you to veto a final bill should it reach your desk.
This could very well be the first time in Florida history that the groundswell of opposition to a single piece of legislation has been so focused and so diverse. Forty-two grassroots, civil rights, and social services organizations representing Florida citizens who are elderly, veterans, disabled, Latinos, of African descent, immigrants, gays and lesbians - and more - have all joined together to demand a halt to this onslaught on Floridians’ right to vote. The ACLU of Florida joins them in this demand.
Among the many objectionable provisions in these bills are ones that would suppress Florida voters through the following means:
Forcing more voters to vote on provisional ballots;
Imposing unnecessary and onerous restrictions on third party voter registration efforts;
Imposing unnecessary and onerous restrictions on groups that collect citizen petitions for ballot measures;
Increasing the frequency of “list maintenance programs;” and/or
Extending the deadline for making accessible paper (marksense) ballots available for disabled Floridians, relegating voters with disabilities to four additional years of voting touch screen voting systems which, under your leadership, the Legislature banned for non-disabled voters.
While legislators may or may not make some changes to SB 956 and HB 7149, the bottom line is that these bills contain so many provisions that are detrimental to both Florida voters and our democractic process that only a wholesale overhaul of the legislation could even begin to make it potentially acceptable. Please do not accept a few changes to these bills as being adequate to address the serious concerns raised by the many organizations opposing them.
While our objections to the bills are wide-ranging, the ACLU’s work in Florida and nationwide to protect voters’ rights leads us to have particular concerns about two of the bills’ provisions.
Both SB 956 and HB 7149 expand the “no-solicitation zone,” creating a constantly shifting zone that would be impossible to enforce and make it virtually impossible for voters to receive critical nonpartisan voter rights information at the polling place. In addition, the ACLU of Florida is greatly concerned about the provisions in both bills that further limit acceptable IDs, without proposing acceptable alternatives. The effect of this restriction will be to prevent eligible citizens from registering to vote, and properly registered voters from exercising their right to vote.
As you know, the ACLU of Florida has already successfully challenged the existing “no-solicitation zone” statute as applied to petition gathering from voters when they leave the polling place. The ACLU of Florida also maintains that the existing statute is vulnerable to a constitutional challenge as it relates to Election Protection programs that provide nonpartisan voting rights information to voters as they enter the polls. The proposed expansion of the “no solicitation zone” in SB 956 and HB 7149 and the bills’ expansion of the kind of speech that would be prohibited under law would make this statute even more vulnerable to a constitutional challenge.
If Florida law is amended in the manner contemplated by these bills, the ACLU of Florida is prepared to take legal action.
Finally, the ACLU is particularly concerned about attempts to further restrict the types of IDs that can be used to register to vote or to confirm identity at the polls. It is well known that restrictive voter identification laws impact the most vulnerable voters: the elderly, the poor and people of color. Eliminating retirement center identifications and neighborhood association IDs from the lists of acceptable identification for voter registration and presentation at the polls, without proposing any acceptable alternatives, would result in widespread disfranchisement – and without any justification. The proponents of these restrictions have not - indeed cannot – point to any fraud or voting irregularities resulting from use of these IDs. In fact, the Senate sponsor – Senator Alex Diaz de la Portilla – admitted that there is no evidence of fraud. Yet he maintains that this impediment to the right to vote is needed to prevent future fraud. Disfranchising eligible voters based on a specious and unfounded fear of future fraud cannot be tolerated, and will be met not only by ACLU litigation, but also undoubtedly by disallowance by the Department of Justice under the pre-clearance provisions of the Voting Rights Act of 1965.
Florida still has a long way to go in protecting voting rights, but we have made progress, including taking initial steps to address the still-widespread disfranchisement of citizens with past felony convictions. However, if this legislation is passed and signed into law by you, Florida will be taking giant steps backwards. Florida citizens deserve better.
We respectfully urge you to take a stand for voters and democracy in Florida, and oppose these bills.
s/ Howard Simon
Senior Staff Attorney and
Director, Racial Justice and Voting Rights Projects
Director of Public Policy
About the ACLU of Florida
The ACLU of Florida is freedom's watchdog, working daily in the courts, legislatures and communities to defend individual rights and personal freedoms guaranteed by the Constitution and the Bill of Rights. For additional information, visit our web site at: www.aclufl.org.