It’s the last day of voting in the Florida primaries, and activists are worried new voting laws will do exactly what Republicans intended them to do and scare Black would-be voters away from the polls. U.S. District Court Judge Mark Walker said in a ruling this March that a new voting law Republicans passed in 2021 was designed “to target Black voters because of their propensity to favor Democratic candidates.” Still, an appeals court found the law should stand for this primary election, making it the first opportunity to test the GOP’s success in weakening the Black vote with new voting restrictions.
Cecile Scoon, president of the League of Women Voters of Florida, told USA Today changes from increased fines for violating state voting laws to new requirements for mail-in ballots will constrict voting, as will another new law that requires officials to purge voter rolls annually and police voting with actual police officers. “The history is too raw, and it’s too real," Scoon said of the South's track record of deterring Black residents from voting.
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Republican Gov. Ron DeSantis announced last Thursday that a new policing unit created to carry out the requirements of this suppressive voting law has led to charges for 20 people he claims fraudulently voted in 2020. "These folks voted illegally in this case, and there's gonna be other rounds for prosecution in the future," DeSantis said during a news conference.
The real question DeSantis, who’s up for reelection in November, has yet to answer is what evidence of widespread voter fraud exists to support the need for a special police force to monitor and investigate voting. Even without answering such a vital question, Florida Republicans have spent the last year implementing measures to restrict voters, and it’s hardly a surprise which voters they’re coming after.
GOP legislators in the state passed a set of voting restrictions last April in the form of SB 90 to prohibit mail-in ballots unless requested and require “an additional elector identifier when a request for a ballot is made.” The legislation also limited the use of drop boxes to outside of a supervisor's office and required in-person monitoring of all drop boxes, according to a legislation summary.
In addition to those restrictions, Republicans also passed SB 524 a year later. It created an office of election crimes and security to assist the secretary of state and required the governor and director of the Florida Department of Law Enforcement to "appoint special officers to investigate alleged violations of election laws." The legislation also increased the penalty for third-party voter registration organizations violating election law from no more than $1,000 to $50,000 annually, according to a legislation summary.
Ben Frazier, a journalist and activist who founded the Northside Coalition of Jacksonville, mentioned both pieces of legislation in an interview with NPR. "I think all of that has a chilling effect,” he said. “People are afraid of the police. We know that this is one of many attempts to suppress the Black vote."
Redistricting was another.
Reginald Gundy, pastor of Jacksonville's Mount Sinai Missionary Baptist Church, told NPR he's registered approximately 80,000 people in Duval County, which includes Jacksonville. It's a county President Joe Biden won in 2020, the first time in decades the county supported a Democratic presidential candidate, NPR reported. Gundy said that victory led DeSantis to pass redrawn state congressional lines that slashed opportunity districts in half for Black residents.
"The way they have reconfigured — redrawn the district in Duval County — has taken away the right for Blacks to vote and have a representative in Congress," Gundy said. "We will have a congressional leader without proper representation for who we are."
RELATED STORY: DeSantis plan carves up Black district to boost white Republicans in Florida
DeSantis argued the district that includes Jacksonville “didn't conform to usual political or geographic boundaries," violating the Equal Protection Clause of the 14th Amendment. Michael Sampson II, a community organizer with the Jacksonville Community Action Committee, told NPR DeSantis' decision to oust maps created by legislators and impose his own was purely political.
"It's a clear choice to dilute the Black voting power, the Black political power in D.C., especially as the governor is planning his run for president," Sampson said.
Christina Kittle, a member of multiple grassroots organizations aimed at increasing power in Black and brown communities, told NPR there's been “a clear attack” on organizers and protesters in the Black community, especially since the murder of George Floyd and the protests it triggered in 2020.
"When there are clear attacks like that it does make it difficult for us to move,” Kittle said. “But I don't think ... it hasn't stopped us. We are still out there doing the work. I see other people are too. It's just more difficult."
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