Two more victories for voting rights

Earlier this week, there were two more victories in the DNC Voting Rights Institute’s ongoing effort to protect voting rights across the country—this time in Florida. On Wednesday, the State of Florida agreed to remedy the harmful effects of the state’s unfair, inaccurate, and illegal purge of registered voters by fully restoring the voting rights of thousands of eligible voters. This news followed another recent development in separate litigation where the state of Florida pledged to expand early voting hours for several counties.

Voter Purge

In the settlement, Florida agreed to notify 2,625 eligible voters—who had previously been improperly removed from the voting rolls – that their voting rights have been fully restored. The Florida Department of State also agreed to re-inform local election officials that the placement of these voters on the flawed purge list does not affect their eligibility and conceded that the erroneous removal of these voters is not grounds for forcing them to cast provisional ballots, which are counted at lower rates and later than regular ballots.

In May, state officials had announced a voter purge that identified more than 180,000 voters as “potential noncitizens.” The Miami Herald quickly found that the list was entirely flawed and disproportionately comprised of citizens who were Democrats, Independents, and Latinos. Florida suspended the purge only after local election officials objected and court challenges were filed. Among the citizens that Florida wrongly demanded prove their citizenship was Brooklyn-born Bill Internicola, a World War II veteran who fought at the Battle of the Bulge and was awarded the Bronze Star, which simply proves that former Florida Governor Charlie Crist was right when he called this purge “shameless.”

Early Voting

Additionally, Florida agreed to expand early voting hours for five counties covered by the Voting Rights Act, and the Department of Justice (DOJ) did not object to this new plan. Because of a history of discrimination, the counties are subject to Section 5 of the Voting Rights Act, meaning that all election law changes must be approved before going into effect. In 2011, the Republican-controlled legislature reduced the early voting period from 96 mandatory hours to a minimum of 48 hours. A panel of federal judges refused to preclear the early voting cuts, noting that minority voters would be especially affected by the changes “because they disproportionately use early in-person voting.”

Consequently, in its new plan, the state agreed that the five counties must return to offering 96 hours of voting over eight days, which is the maximum allowed under the law. This significant victory for voters ensures that Section 5 counties will enjoy the same early voting hours that were available in 2008.

This week’s victories in Florida are part of a national trend of expanding voting rights across the country. In 2012, voting rights advocates have had increased success defending the fundamental right to vote. Courtrooms across the country—in states like Florida, Missouri, Ohio, South Carolina, Texas, and Wisconsin—have enjoined or struck down restrictive laws that violate the Voting Rights Act, the U.S. Constitution, or state constitutions. It is expected that courts across the country will continue to follow suit and rule in favor of protecting and expanding the right to vote through Election Day and beyond.

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