FLORIDA

 

Al Lawson for Congress US House of Representatives

Candidates

Margaret Good for Congress US House of Representatives

Pam Kieth for Congress US House of Representatives

Debbie Mucarsel-Powell  -- incumbent US House of Representatives

Charlie Crist incumbent for Congress US House of Representatives

NOTES:

  1. FL Voter Registration Deadline is Oct 5, 29 days before Nov 3, 2020.

  2. Stage 3 -- No excuse required to vote by mail
  3. Online registration available

FAVORITES:

  1.  Act Blue Directory 

  2. Vote.org -- Everything about ever state

  3. Movement.vote/groups/ -- Help local, state orgs get out the vote

  4. Votevets.org -- Vets against voter suppression

  5. Votefwd.org -- Most popular way to volunteer to support getting out the vote

  6. VoteSaveAmerica.com -- Adopt a State

Voter Issues

OCTOBER 2020

• Florida: Former New York City Mayor Mike Bloomberg and his allives have fundraised $16 million to pay off the fines of nearly 32,000 Black and Latino voters with felony convictions in response to Florida Republicans passing a modern-day poll tax by requiring people with felony convictions to pay off court fines and fees before regaining their voting rights, even though the state can't even tell countless affected individuals how much money they owe. The plaintiffs' expert witness estimated that roughly 43% of the 775,000 people barred from voting were Black, meaning this group likely leans decidedly Democratic compared to those who don't owe court costs.

The ultra-wealthy Bloomberg has committed $100 million to helping Joe Biden win Florida, and his effort is intended to blunt the racial and partisan discrimination behind the GOP's poll tax by only focusing on Black and Latino voters, since they're much likelier to lean Democratic than whites. In response, Republican state Attorney General Ashley Moody asked federal law enforcement to investigate Bloomberg's group for potential election law violations, making this whole ordeal further harken back to the ugliness of the Jim Crow era, when law enforcement was routinely wielded as a cudgel against Black voting advocates.

 

 

AUGUST 2020

Florida: Litigants in Florida have filed a new complaint asking that officials mail all voters absentee ballots for the November election after a state court judge dismissed their previous request. In rejecting the relief plaintiffs had sought, the judge ruled that they had not demonstrated any difficulty "in requesting a vote-by-mail ballot or otherwise voting by mail."

To overcome this hurdle, litigants have found new plaintiffs, including a 93-year-old woman whom they say "does not have ready access to the mails, postage resources, or computer services—all of which makes submitting a request for a mail-in ballot unnecessarily cumbersome and ineffective."

JULY 2020

• Florida, North Carolina, Texas, Virginia: Florida's GOP Secretary of State Laurel Lee has reached an agreement with advocates for blind voters in a federal lawsuit that will require Miami-Dade, Nassau, Orange, Pinellas, and Volusia Counties, which are home to one-fourth of Florida's registered voters, to protect visually impaired voters' right to vote a secret ballot. Such voters will be able to obtain their ballots electronically and fill them out using special software before printing them out and mailing them in, a system that is already available to military and overseas voters. Florida also agreed to implement the same system statewide by 2022.

Meanwhile, blind voters have also filed federal lawsuits in North Carolina, Texas, and Virginia challenging absentee voting inaccessibility in those states and seeking remedies similar to the one agreed to in Florida. Advocates for blind voters have met success in court in several other states since the start of the pandemic.

• Florida: A state court judge has dismissed a lawsuit brought by a trio of Florida voters seeking to have election officials mail ballots to all voters and prepay the postage on return envelopes. The judge ruled that the plaintiffs had failed to allege they had been harmed, concluding they had not demonstrated any difficulty "in requesting a vote-by-mail ballot or otherwise voting by mail."

• Florida: Just before trial was set to begin, voting rights advocates and Democrats who had been pushing for a wide array of changes to Florida's voting procedures reached a settlement with election officials. Under the agreement, state officials would be required to "encourage" their local counterparts to increase early voting options and offer prepaid postage on mail ballots. Most notably, the state would send an informational mailing to unregistered but eligible voters.

Plaintiffs had, among other things, originally sought to have the state pre-pay postage on all ballots and applications; allow all ballots postmarked by Election Day and received within 10 days to count; establish curbside voting; and extend the deadline for voters to fix any issues with mail ballots, such as signatures not matching. One group of plaintiffs representing blind voters, who want to ensure they can safely vote a secret ballot, was not part of the settlement. Their case will head to trial on July 27.

Florida: Voting rights advocates have asked the Supreme Court to overturn a recent stay by the 11th Circuit Court of Appeals of a lower court ruling that had struck down the Florida GOP's poll tax on citizens who have served their felony sentences but owe court fines or fees. If it's put back into effect, the district court's ruling would pave the way for approximately 800,000 citizens who couldn't pay off Florida's predatory court costs to regain their voting rights, a group of citizens that is disproportionately Black.

Separately, the 11th Circuit scheduled a hearing on the merits of the case for Aug. 18, the very same day as Florida's statewide primary and nearly a month after the July 20 voter registration deadline for that election, ensuring that affected voters will be unable to vote in that election if the Supreme Court doesn't intervene.

APRIL 2020

• Florida: Voting rights organizations have filed a lawsuit in federal court over Florida’s election procedures.

The plaintiffs are suing to require the state to extend the deadline to register to vote, return absentee mail ballots, and fix any issues with ballot envelope signatures not matching. This lawsuit also seeks to expand voter outreach efforts to unregistered voters; make it easier to register online; expand early voting; allow drop boxes for returning mail ballots; and establish alternative in-person voting methods such as curbside voting.

Meanwhile, election supervisors in populous Broward, Miami-Dade, and Palm Beach Counties in southeast Florida have confirmed that they are planning to mail absentee ballot applications with prepaid return postage to all registered voters for the August primary and November general election, but they are asking county authorities to provide the funding for them to do so. Collectively, these three counties are home to one in four Florida voters.

• Florida: Federal Judge Robert Hinkle granted class certification on Tuesday to Floridians who've served felony sentences but are still banned from voting by a Republican-backed poll tax because they are unable to pay off court fines and fees. Hinkle recently signaled he'd take this step, and previously, he temporarily blocked the poll tax from being enforced on the 17 plaintiffs in the case. Hinkle's new order means that those who can't pay their court debts—likely several hundred thousand people in total—could regain their voting rights following a trial that's set to begin on April 27.

Republicans had appealed Hinkle's preliminary injunction, but the 11th Circuit Court of Appeals declined to overturn it. Republicans have not yet said whether they would appeal to the Supreme Court to reverse the injunction.

• Florida: The 11th Circuit Court of Appeals has denied Florida Republicans' request for all 13 judges on the circuit to rehear their appeal after a three-judge panel had refused to overturn a lower court ruling that blocked Florida from enforcing the GOP's poll tax on the 17 plaintiffs who were unable to pay it off to regain their voting rights. Donald Trump flipped the 11th Circuit to a majority of Republican appointees late last year, making the circuit's refusal to rehear the case en banc surprising.

The case is still proceeding on the merits and will go to trial on April 27, but the lower court's temporary injunction will remain in effect. The district court recently signaled it would likely extend its ruling to the entire class of citizens affected by the poll tax, which could be several hundred thousand Floridians.

MARCH 2020

• Florida: Federal Judge Robert Hinkle has given Republican Gov. Ron DeSantis' administration an ultimatum to establish a process to determine which citizens who've served felony sentences are unable to pay off their outstanding court fines and fees and therefore cannot remain subject to the GOP's modern-day poll tax. That law requires the payment of such debts before people with felony convictions can regain their voting rights. Hinkle said that if the state does not act before the start of trial on April 27, he would institute the necessary measures himself.

Hinkle also said on Thursday that he would grant class certification in the case, meaning that his ruling could soon apply to the hundreds of thousands of Floridians who are unable to pay off their court debts to regain their voting rights. Previously, Hinkle had temporarily blocked the poll tax from going into effect, but that decision only applied to the 17 individuals who had brought the case against the law last year.

• Florida: As part of the ongoing federal litigation over the Florida GOP's modern-day poll tax on people who've served their felony sentences but still owe court fines and fees, a University of Florida professor serving as an expert witness for the plaintiffs has filed a report with the court showing just how extensive the disenfranchisement caused by the poll tax would be if it remains in place.

The report estimates that of roughly 1 million people who were supposed to regain their voting rights, 775,000 of them still owe financial obligations in court and would be barred from voting, while only 226,000 are now eligible to vote. Furthermore, 43% of the disenfranchised are African American, roughly three times the black share of the state's overall adult population.

• Florida: Florida's Republican-majority state House has passed a constitutional amendment with a large bipartisan majority to repeal the state's public financing system for statewide executive elections. If the GOP-run state Senate also approves the measure with at least a three-fifths majority, it would go to the voters in November, who would also have to pass it with at least 60% support for it to take effect. It's unclear why most Democrats sided with Republicans to pass it, especially after Democratic candidates made use of the program in 2018.

Under current law, candidates for statewide offices who raise qualifying contributions (at least $150,000 for governor and $100,000 for other offices) in increments of up to $250 receive public funding at a two-to-one matching rate. In return, they must agree to abide by expenditure limits of $2 per registered voter for governor or $1 per voter in other races, which in 2018 came out to $27 million and $13.5 million, respectively.

• Florida: State House Republicans have passed a constitutional amendment over Democratic objections that it would impose additional restrictions on the initiative process. These restrictions follows on the heels of a 2019 GOP-backed statute that made it harder to put initiatives on the ballot, which itself was a reaction to several progressive measures that voters had passed over the last decade. Those measures included the restoration of voting rights for up to 1.4 million citizens who had been permanently banned from voting despite serving out felony sentences, as well as a pair of amendments that banned gerrymandering.

The GOP's new amendment would make it harder for organizers to place a measure before the state Supreme Court for review, a step required by law before an initiative can appear on the ballot. Currently, activists must gather 10% of the total number of signatures needed to qualify for the ballot statewide and in one-fourth of the state's 27 congressional districts in order to reach the Supreme Court. Republicans would increase that to 25% of the statewide total in half of all districts, which could waste significant time and resources if the court rejects a proposed measure.

The amendment would also require the state attorney general to ask the court whether proposals violate the U.S. Constitution; currently, the court's jurisdiction is confined to assessing whether the ballot summary language is accurate and the measure is limited to only one subject.

Additionally, the GOP's legislation would likely shorten the window to gather signatures. Under current law, organizers can collect signatures for up to two years; if they obtain a sufficient number, their initiative can appear on the ballot at the next general election. The GOP's new rule would instead invalidate all signatures after Feb. 1 of every even-numbered year. That would remove groups' ability to begin signature collection at the time of their choosing if they want to avail themselves of the full two-year period, in practice likely abbreviating the amount of time they have to gather petitions.

Unlike in the House, Republicans are one seat shy of the three-fifths majority in the state Senate needed to put the amendment on the ballot, and it's unclear if they have a Democrat willing to cross their party and support it. If the measure does make it onto the ballot, voters would have to approve it with a three-fifths supermajority for it to take effect.

FEBRUARY 2020

• Florida: On Wednesday, a panel of three judges of the 11th Circuit Court of Appeals affirmed a lower-court ruling that held that Florida can’t enforce Republicans' modern-day poll tax. The law in question requires citizens who have served their felony sentences to pay all court-related fines and fees before they can regain their voting rights. This latest decision means that a preliminary injunction will remain in effect against enforcing the law against the 17 plaintiffs who are party to the case while it proceeds on the underlying merits.

Republicans passed the law last year after voters amended Florida's constitution in 2018 to end lifetime voter disenfranchisement for up to 1.4 million people who had served out sentences for all but the most serious crimes. But in large part because Florida levies onerous fines to fund its court system, an expert for the plaintiffs who analyzed 58 of the state's 67 counties found that roughly 80% of those who’ve served their felony sentences owe outstanding fees—up to 1.1 million people overall. That export's report also estimated that 59% of them owe at least $500 and 38% owe at least $1,000.

Before voters passed the 2018 initiative, Florida disenfranchised 1 in 10 adults, including 1 in 5 black adults—five times the rate of every other state. This racial discrimination was no accident, either, since Florida’s lifetime voting ban was a product of the Jim Crow era.

The 11th Circuit's ruling is limited to the specific plaintiffs who are party to the lawsuit, but it paves the way for a future decision that could apply to everyone affected by the law. However, the decision may not survive. Republicans have announced they will request a review by the entire 11th Circuit, which now features a majority of Republican-appointed judges. The conservatives on the Supreme Court could also overturn this ruling if it reaches them.

Furthermore, Florida's conservative-dominated state Supreme Court recently issued an advisory opinion holding that the constitutional amendment does in fact require the payment of fines and fees, even though its text makes no mention of them. While that ruling is not binding, it could be a signal that the state court could strike down the entire amendment if the federal courts invalidate the poll tax.

 

• Florida: A constitutional amendment pushed by a secretive dark money group will appear on the November ballot after Florida's Supreme Court gave its approval in a unanimous ruling this week.

The amendment, pushed by an organization called "Keep Our Constitution Clean," would require that citizen initiatives to amend Florida's constitution pass in two consecutive general elections rather than in just one, which is the current law. This restriction adds on to the existing requirement that constitutional amendments pass with at least 60% support, the highest such threshold in the country alongside Illinois'. If voters approve this latest measure, the voter support thresholds to successfully passing an initiative in Florida would be the most burdensome of any state that allows them.

This ballot measure isn't the only new restriction on the initiative process that could be in effect after 2020. Republicans are considering additional statutory restrictions after passing a similar law in 2019. Currently, initiative supporters must submit signatures equivalent to 8% of the votes cast in the previous presidential election and meet that threshold both statewide and in at least half of Florida's congressional districts, which comes out to roughly 766,000 signatures after 2016. Once a campaign hits 10% of the total needed, the state Supreme Court reviews the initiative to ensure that the ballot language isn't misleading and doesn't address more than one subject.

However, the GOP's bills (SB1794, SPB 7062, and HB7037) contain provisions that would: (1) require initiatives hit the 8% signature threshold in every congressional district; (2) raise the signature threshold for state Supreme Court review to 50% of the total, which could waste significant time and resources if the court rejects a proposed measure; and (3) require the state attorney general to ask the court whether proposals violate the U.S. Constitution instead of just whether the ballot summary language is accurate and limited to only one subject.

Additionally, the GOP's legislation would likely shorten the window to gather signatures. Under current law, organizers can collect signatures for up to two years; if they obtain a sufficient number, their initiative can appear on the ballot at the next general election. The GOP's new rule would instead invalidate all signatures after Feb. 1 of every even-numbered year. That would remove groups' ability to begin signature collection at the time of their choosing if they want to avail themselves of the full two-year period, in practice likely abbreviating the amount of time they have to gather petitions.

Republican proponents have made it unequivocally clear that they are doing so to strangle any efforts to put initiatives on the ballot. Over the last decade, Florida voters have used ballot initiatives to restore voting rights to up to 1.4 million citizens who had been permanently banned from voting despite serving out felony sentences, as well as to amend Florida's constitution to ban gerrymandering. Activists have advanced these measures precisely because Florida's Republican-run legislature won't take them up, despite their popularity. Now Republicans simply don't want to let them appear on the ballot at all.

JANUARY 2020

 

Florida: The new conservative majority on Florida's Supreme Court issued an advisory opinion on Thursday validating the modern-day poll tax Republicans passed last year by requiring citizens who've served their felony sentences to also pay off all court-related fines or fees before they can regain their voting rights. The justices concluded that such financial obligations were part of the terms of felony sentences under the new voter-approved constitutional amendment, even though the amendment's ballot summary made no mention of these obligations.

The 2018 constitutional amendment that nearly two-thirds of voters approved was supposed to restore voting rights to up to 1.4 million citizens, but the GOP's poll tax could negatively affect up to 1.1 million of those individuals by imposing a financial barrier that many of them will never be able to overcome. However, a federal district court in a separate suit temporarily blocked most of the requirement for the specific plaintiffs in that case late last year, which was partly stayed while the GOP's appeal is still pending. The plaintiffs are asking the district court to expand the ruling to all individuals affected by the poll tax.

While that federal case stands a chance of blocking the poll tax, such a ruling could prove a double-edged sword for voting rights advocates. That's because the court's conservative majority may deem the payment of court fines and fees to be "non-severable" from the rest of the voting rights restoration amendment.

In other words, if the federal courts invalidate the poll tax, Florida's Supreme Court could strike down the rest of the amendment by holding that the surviving provisions can't be separated from the financial penalty. Such a ruling would effectively overturn the rights restoration amendment entirely, leaving Florida to once again impose a lifetime ban on voting for any felony conviction.

That outcome would be a devastating blow to voting rights and mark a vicious cycle of voter suppression intended to thwart voters of color and Democrats. Republican Gov. Ron DeSantis—who called voting a "privilege" and not a right in response to the opinion—likely would not have won in 2018 but for the fact that lifetime felony disenfranchisement disproportionately prevents black citizens from voting. Yet precisely because of that victory, DeSantis and his fellow Republicans were able to pass their poll tax in order to keep up to a million citizens from voting.

• Florida: A Republican state senator in Florida has introduced a new voter ID bill that would require the address on a voter's ID to exactly match the address where they're registered.

This requirement appears targeted at college student voters who want to vote at school, since they would be more likely to have a valid driver's license listing their home address instead, along with low-income voters, who are more likely to be renters and thus more frequently move than higher-income voters do. Both students and low-income voters lean Democratic, so this restriction risks suppressing their votes, which is likely the goal of this legislation.

ATLANTA (CN) — The 11th Circuit upheld a federal ruling Friday afternoon, refusing to dismiss a disability discrimination lawsuit brought by a deaf rights advocacy group over Florida’s alleged refusal to provide captioning for live and archived video recordings of legislative proceedings.

In a 25-page ruling, the three-judge panel upheld a 2018 ruling by a federal judge in favor of the National Association of the Deaf, finding that the state’s failure to provide captioning for legislative proceedings violates deaf citizens’ fundamental right to participate in the democratic process.

The National Association of the Deaf and Eddie Sierra, a deaf Florida resident and disability rights activist, alleged in an April 2018 complaint that Florida’s refusal to provide closed captioning for videos of legislative proceedings in the Florida Senate and House of Representatives violates Title II of the Americans with Disabilities Act and Section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act.

DECEMBER 2019

Florida: As expected, Florida Republicans have appealed a federal court ruling striking down a 70-year-old law that requires the governor's party be listed first on the ballot, which the court said gives the incumbent's party an unfair advantage in violation of the Constitution.

©BOOMERS FOR DEMOCRACY