Senator Geraldine Thompson Florida Legislators announce two new Bills to protect the right to vote

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DSC_4428TALLAHASSEE, Fla. – Pushing back against repeated state actions to restrict voting, today a group of Florida legislators announced two new bills to comprehensively protect the right to vote:

The Florida Voting Rights Act (SB 1246 and HB 1079), co-sponsored by Senator Geraldine Thompson (D-Orlando) and Representative Reggie Fullwood (D-Jacksonville), would prohibit any voting procedures that discriminate on the basis of race, gender, age, income level, sexual orientation, language, religion or disability. It would also allow the Florida Attorney General to petition the Florida Supreme Court to review changes in voting procedure (including but not limited to changes in redistricting plans, early voting, absentee voting, language access, list maintenance and voter registration) before they go into effect, to determine if they have a discriminatory impact.

The Florida Right to Vote Act (SB 1132 and HB 1073), co-sponsored by Senator Oscar Braynon (D-Miami Gardens) and Representative Victor M. Torres (D-Orlando), would make voting a fundamental right in Florida – requiring voting policies to fall under strict scrutiny, the highest standard of judicial review. This would require lawmakers and election officials, including Supervisors of Elections, to demonstrate a compelling reason before they can enact policies that make it harder to vote, show that the measure is narrowly tailored, and prove that it will advance its stated goal.

“As lawmakers in the world’s greatest democracy, we should make voting easier for our citizens, not harder,” said Sen. Thompson. “Yet over the past few years, Florida politicians have passed and pursued a veritable kitchen sink of measures to restrict access to the ballot, including onerous constraints on registration drives, cuts to the early voting period, and repeated attempts to kick off eligible citizens from the voter rolls. I am proud to join my colleagues in introducing comprehensive, multifaceted legislation that will firmly protect the right to vote in Florida.”

In light of the Supreme Court decision last year to strike down a key provision of the Voting Rights Act (VRA), Florida voters are increasingly vulnerable. This ruling ended federal pre-approval of voting changes in jurisdictions with a history of discriminatory voting practices, including five Florida counties. In January, Congress introduced a bill to update the VRA, with a new formula for determining which states require pre-approval of voting changes, but this formula leaves Florida out entirely.

“The Florida Voting Rights Act will restore the kind of protection that many Florida voters formerly had under the federal Voting Rights Act, and goes even further by applying that protection to the entire state,” said Rep. Fullwood. “Florida can’t wait on Washington to fix our state’s election problems. It’s up to us. The Florida Voting Rights Act and the Florida Right to Vote Act are what we need to ensure that the most enduring promise of our democracy – our right to vote – is protected.”

The Florida Right to Vote Act would enshrine a fundamental right to vote into state law, requiring changes in voting procedure to undergo a higher standard of legal review. With this standard in place, many onerous barriers to the ballot would be defeated.

“In the absence of a fundamental right to vote in Florida law, state officials may currently enact new voting policies with no requirement to prove a compelling state interest, or to prove that they are not discriminatory,” said Sen. Braynon. “We would never tolerate this kind of deference to politicians with other rights, like the right of free speech or freedom of religion. We need to protect voting in the same way.”

“For too long, Florida has been the poster child for election disasters,” said Rep. Torres. “Some politicians would argue that voting should be hard and involve some epic journey to the front of the line. But voting is not a privilege; it is a fundamental right of U.S. citizenship. These two bills would finally protect that right, once and for all, to ensure that our voting system is free, fair and accessible to all Floridians.”

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