In a controversial ruling last year, the U.S. Supreme Court struck down core provisions of the 1965 Voting Rights Act. But some Florida lawmakers are working to put those protections back in place at the state level.
Under the Voting Rights Act, jurisdictions with a history of racial discrimination were subject to federal review before making changes to their voting laws. But the Supreme Court said the law did not reflect current conditions and American society is far different today than it was when Congress passed the act.
Some lawmakers, like Sen. Geraldine Thompson (D-Orlando), remain skeptical. Thompson is the Senate sponsor of a bill to create a state-level judicial review of voting law changes. She says Florida’s recent track record speaks for itself.
“Florida was under supervision, and because of the U.S. Supreme Court ruling, it no longer is,” Thompson says. “Without any supervision, we get things like the voter purge, we get a shortening of early voting days, we get a change in terms of where you can leave absentee ballots.”
Thompson says her bill will ensure everyone has equal access to the polls.
“So this bill would say that before we put anything in place that might impact the access of people of color to the voting booth, let’s have a review that would be requested by the attorney general and conducted by the Florida Supreme Court,” Thompson says.
Thompson joined three other lawmakers Tuesday to call for their bills to be heard by the Legislature. Legislators applauded last week’s federal appeals court ruling that Florida’s 2012 “voter purge” was illegal. Sen. Oscar Braynon (D-Miami Gardens) says the ruling shows the state’s voting laws need improvement.
“What you’re seeing happening is there’s an agreement that the ability - voting is a right, and you can’t do anything to impede that, you can’t do anything to - and you’ve seen the courts agree with us,” Braynon says.
But with only three weeks left in the legislative session and no hearing scheduled, the bill’s sponsors can do little but try to remain optimistic.