Voter suppression in the sunshine state

Voter suppression in the sunshine state

Elizabeth Wirtz


The midterm election on Nov. 6 started discussions around voter requirements and voter suppression laws (VSL) around the United States and in Florida. The Florida gubernatorial election — the race for Florida’s governor — was watched around the U.S. because Andrew Gillum (D) is the first black candidate for Florida governor in the state’s history. Opposing Gillum is pro-Trump Republican Ron DeSantis. Florida is a crucial state in U.S. politics because in the 2016 presidential election, President Trump won the swing state of Florida by a single electoral college vote. According to the New York Times election results, DeSantis won governor by less than 34,000 votes out of over eight million votes and because of the close results, Florida issued its first statewide election recount.

With the 2018 midterm elections being closely watched in Florida, there have been many legal cases about VSL in Florida starting in 2011. According to the Brennan Center for Justice, VSL are a type of deterrent to stop low income and minority groups from voting. VSL are present in 25 out of the 50 states, according to the Brennan Center for Justice. In Florida, VSL have been present since 2011, when Governor Rick Scott (R) signed a series of laws into practice, successfully making voting more stringent in the state.

 The Brennan Center for Justice has listed several voter restrictions and other adjustments to voter laws in Florida. First, the early voting period was shortened in length, which created longer lines for voters in the 2012 midterm elections. The Herald Tribunal said that by shortening the hours that polls could be opened, it caused voting lines to stack up and, at times, some people were waiting for over six hours to vote. They also said this caused the number of voters to drop 27 percent in early voting in Sarasota County. Legislators responded in 2013, creating a longer period of early voting than in 2012, but still shorter than prior to the legislation in 2011. 

Additional restrictions were placed on voter registration drives in 2012, making voter registration more difficult to access and cutting back the number of volunteers who were able to serve their communities. Federal Judge Robert Hinkle enjoined parts of the new restrictions in August of 2012. Governor Scott also took away convicted felons’ rights to vote. On the 2018 midterm ballot, Amendment 4 was voted on and passed successfully — with over five million votes — now allowing prior felons the right to vote, except those convicted of murder or sexual offenses. 

VSL disproportionately target marginalized groups. A common group targeted by VSL are college students. Earlier this year, U.S. District Judge Mark Walker struck down Florida’s ban on early voting on college campuses. “[The law] reveals a stark pattern of discrimination,” said Judge Walker in his ruling. “It is unexplainable on grounds other than age because it bears so heavily on younger voters than all other voters.” When examining Florida’s party breakdown through the Fort Lauderdale newspaper Sun-Sentinel, 83 percent of Republican Party members are white, 11 percent are hispanic and only 1 percent are black. The voter suppression laws passed in 2011 and 2012 were passed with a Republican majority in Florida’s legislation.

Politico reported that on Oct. 6 and 7 this year, a number of Florida residents claimed that online voter registration was not working, and Palm Beach County Elections Supervisor Susan Bucher said only one person was able to register during that time. The newspaper Politico also noted that Florida Democrats have sued Governor Scott’s Secretary of State Ken Detzner to extend the voter registration period by a week because of Hurricane Michael and the problems voters faced with online registration. The Secretary of State allowed eight counties affected by Hurricane Michael an extra period of voter registration. 

The Quaker Campus will continue to report on the recount in Florida as it develops.