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Voters rights groups work under Florida's new voting laws

Black voters matter
Black Voters Matter
Black Voters Matter and other advocates were outside the Florida capitol in April to speak out against the special session for the state's congressional maps.

In another look at the 2022 election cycle, getting as many voters as possible to the polls or to the mailbox is a job being conducted by a number of organizations. One is a relative newcomer, the other a venerable election year staple.

The League of Women Voters has been around since 1920 when the 19th Amendment gave women the right to cast their first ballots.

“We are in the process of updating and preparing to publish our local candidate's guide that will go up on our website Vote 411 which is a one-stop-shop for election information that you need,” said Haley Richards, League’s President for Escambia and Santa Rosa Counties.

The LWV also plans to meet voters in-person at a number of events, including two in Pensacola starting with Gallery Night this Friday evening, and Palafox Market the following day.

“Are they prepared? Do they have questions? Any of those things we can assist voters with,” said Richards. “We can also help them answer questions about the process of voting by mail because some of the laws and things have changed since the last time we went to the polls to vote; that’s probably seen the biggest change.”

Traditionally, the League of Women Voters has been and still is non-partisan and appears to be one of the last bastions of the political “middle of the road” as things become even more politicized every day.

“We feel like we have not been caught up in all of that, because we do hold our non-partisanship very high; and we try to make sure we’re doing the best we can to assist voters,” Richards said. "In just answering their questions and educating them about the process and then of course providing access to candidates through our surveys and questions so they can make the best possible, informed decision.”

The League is also considered to be a third-party voter registrar, has had to make some adjustments after a number of court rulings that have changed the landscape in some areas. One change, says Richards, is that they no longer have to provide disclaimers at registration events.

“We still feel like we have the trust of the community and the voters,” she said. “If we take one of their voter registration ballots, which was where a lot of the rules came from, we would have to disclose certain things to them about we may or may not get this in on time, and some other things that have since we are no longer required to do that.”

Another organization is working to reach voters of color. One could argue that Black Voters Matter was an idea whose time had come, as a byproduct of the 2016 election, with its first real victory the following year in the special U.S. Senate election in Alabama, between Doug Jones and Roy Moore.

“The organization went and found the grassroots boards that were doing the work in the community and from there, went to provide resources,” said Jamil Davis, organizing manager in Florida for the Black Voters Matter movement.

He adds that the work resulted in black voter turnout in that race which he calls almost an “Obama-like” level. In 2022, he says they face a number of challenges in the Sunshine State — most of them compliments of the Legislature and Gov. Ron DeSantis — dating back to 2021.

“When the anti-protest bill HB-1, as well as the voter suppression bill SB-90 during the special legislative session, we were then warning people about the dangers and the ills,” he said. “Knowing that the results of this legislation being passed would disproportionately affect Black people in the state of Florida.”

Passed and signed into law this year was Senate Bill 524 which sets up an “election police force” to investigate voter fraud allegations. Davis contends that could affect both individual voters and grassroots get-out-the-vote organizations.

“Being wary of going to the polls to vote, and those organizers being wary of even just registering people, or assisting in any way that they can at the polls, has kind of put a paralyzing effect on the work to increase not just Black voter turnout, but essentially Black political organizing power,” Davis said.

Black Voters Matter was one of the organizations that filed suit last year against DeSantis and the state for Senate Bill 90; and also filed a lawsuit challenging the governor’s plan to redraw congressional lines, which in effect would dissolve the state’s two predominately Black districts. The redistricting suit has been stayed by the Florida Supreme Court.

“The maps that [DeSantis] introduced are the maps that will be used in this year’s midterm elections,” said Davis. “But we still have to move forward with the actual trial, which probably won’t be until next year.”

Despite the use of the DeSantis districts, the strategy by Black Voters Matter and other organizing groups remains intact. Davis says it actually strengthens their approach, which is focusing more on the issues concerning voters of color.

“Basically that campaign will center around a central question,” he said. “What is your vision of a Black Florida, where Black people can live in freedom, equity, and authenticity? It creates a space where Black people can be able to envision what they see for themselves and how do we utilize electoral politics.”

In Florida, Primary Day is Tuesday, August 23. The general is November 8.

Dave came to WUWF in September, 2002, after 14 years as News Director at the Alabama Radio Network in Montgomery, Mobile and Birmingham and a total of 27 years in commercial radio. He's also served as Alabama Bureau Chief for United Press International, and a stringer for the Birmingham Post-Herald.