By Marc H. Morial
President and CEO, National Urban League
“We must fight voter suppression, we must educate citizens so that new laws won’t catch them unaware on Election Day, and we must empower them to get to the polls.” National Urban League 2012 State of Black America – Occupy the Vote
Recent attempts to prevent voters of color in Florida from fully exercising their constitutional right to vote suffered twin blows last week.
First, on Thursday, the Federal District Court in Miami granted a preliminary injunction effectively blocking several key provisions of Florida’s new and restrictive voter registration laws. Calling the new registration requirements “onerous,” the judge sided with the National Urban League, our Florida affiliates and a coalition of civil rights and voting rights groups who believe that these illegitimate and burdensome restrictions have only one purpose – to suppress the votes of millions of Floridians.
A second victory for voting rights occurred on Thursday when the U.S. Department of Justice Voting Section informed Florida’s Secretary of State that the State’s current effort to purge voting rolls – allegedly to keep non-citizens from voting – was likely in violation of the 1965 Voting Rights Act and the 1993 National Voter Registration Act. The State has targeted about 2,700 so-called ineligible voters for removal from the rolls unless they provide proof of citizenship within 30 days. The effort is so flawed that hundreds of legal residents, including several heroic World War II veterans, have received insulting letters demanding proof of citizenship.
In its letter challenging the State’s actions, the Justice Department said that Florida failed to comply with Section 5 of the Voting Rights Act because it has not, as required, submitted any changes affecting voting to the federal court or the Attorney General for review. The letter also stated that under the National Voter Registration Act, any program to eliminate ineligible persons from the voting rolls must be completed 90 days prior to a Federal primary or general election and must be “uniform and non-discriminatory.”
With Florida’s primary slated for August 14th, the State has clearly missed the deadline. And with Hispanics comprising the majority of those targeted by this measure, we believe it also fails the non-discrimination test.
These federal rulings are a victory for Floridians and for those of us on the front lines working to protect one of our most precious rights – the right to vote. Let’s not forget that because of voting irregularities in Florida, including clear instances of voter suppression, a mere total of 537 votes and the United States Supreme Court decided the 2000 Presidential election. The nation vowed to never let that happen again. But, Florida has emerged as a key battleground in a new and unprecedented war on voter rights currently underway across the country.
The National Urban League’s “Occupy the Vote” campaign has made the protection of voting rights our number one issue in 2012. We are calling on citizens to join us in the fight against voter suppression laws which are clearly designed to keep people of color, students, the elderly and people with disabilities from the polls. We have also teamed up with the NAACP to sponsor a voter empowerment hotline to enable callers to register to vote and report problems: 1-866-MYVOTE-1. Nothing will have a greater impact on the future of Black America in 2012 than the vote. That is why we will continue the fight to remove barriers and empower all citizens to fully exercise this precious right.
Photo By: Aaron Daye/ Echo Photo Editor