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Lawmakers urge elections bill reversal

Sascha Cordner

A group of black lawmakers are urging the Florida Legislature to reverse a provision in Florida’s widely debated elections law. As Sascha Cordner reports, they claim it essentially suppresses African American voters from having their voices heard in future elections.

Supporters of Florida’s elections law say it cuts down on voter fraud. Some of its most contentious provisions include tightening the rules for third party voter registration organizations, like the League of Women Voters, and decreasing the number of days for early voting.

So far, the new law has led to several court challenges. It’s even caused one Florida teacher to face a 1-thousand dollar fine for failing to turn in new voter registrations for her students within 48 hours, as required under the new law:

Colbert: These are the children of Pace[,Florida]. They’re innocence lost at the hands of their own teacher, a teacher who crossed the line, and betrayed their trust. Dawn Quarles, who lured them into committing an unspeakable act that they were too young to understand.

Dawn: I am being fined by the state of Florida for registering kids [her students] to vote. I did not make it within the 48-hours.

Colbert: Fraud! I said Fraud! Fraud, fraud, fraud!

Stephen Colbert, a comedian, known for his show, the Colbert Report, recently did a spoof of the state’s elections law. Colbert also tackled another hotly debated issue, this time with the help of Florida’s Executive Director of the American Civil Liberties Union Howard Simon:

Howard:This law uses the threat of fraud to basically try to make it more difficult for black people and college students and young people and language minorities from voting.

Colbert: Why would they want to do that?

Howard: They tend to vote Democratic and they voted overwhelmingly for President [Barack] Obama.

Colbert: Fraud! And, I think we can all agree fraud sounds bad.

“It was intentional.”

That’s Democratic Senator Arthenia Joyner of Tampa agreeing with the ACLU’s Howard Simon.

She says the law aims to suppress the black vote as well as other minorities from re-electing President Barack Obama, especially because it scales back on the number of early voting days.

She and other black State lawmakers, like Democratic Senator Chris Smith, are now hoping to overturn a provision in the elections law that could affect Florida’s African American community:

“So, today, we’re going to stand with this amendment to Senate Bill 1596 and call on the Senate to reverse its archaic rule of last year and ask that Florida allows early voting that last Sunday before the election.”

Smith is leading the charge on an amendment to re-allow early voting on Sunday, and re-instate an African American tradition referred to as “Soul to the Polls.”

“…in which African Americans went to church that last Sunday before the election and they received their spiritual nourishment and afterwards, we all marched to the polls in every community from Duval to Pensacola o Miami-Dade and in some communities, 20 to 30-percent of the votes in those communities came in on that last Sunday. Last year’s election’s law took us back. It forbids us from doing that.”

There are claims that a significant number of minority votes that helped get President Barack Obama elected in 2008 came from early voting in Florida, including the Sunday before Election Day.

And, Leon County Supervisor of Elections Ion Sancho says that’s true. He says a majority of African Americans voted in 2008 at in-person voting stations. Sancho adds Mr. Obama accumulated a 6-percent lead over his rival at the time, John McCain, thanks to early voting, which is why he says the state’s new elections law contains provisions to cut down on early voting.

The Florida Senate is expected to take up Smith’s amendment to Senate Bill 1596 on Monday to overturn those provisions. Smith says he’s been in talks with the bill’s sponsor, Republican Senator Miguel Diaz de la Portilla as well as Senate leadership regarding support of the amendment, but so far, he says he’s received no firm reply.

Sascha Cordner has more than ten years of public radio experience. It includes working at NPR member station WUFT-FM in Gainesville for several years. She's worked in both radio and TV, serving in various capacities as a reporter, producer and anchor. She's also a graduate of the University of Florida with a bachelor's degree in telecommunications. She is the recipient of 15 awards from the Associated Press, Society of Professional Journalists (SPJ), and Edward R. Murrow. Her award-winning stories include her coverage on the infamous “Dozier School for Boys” and a feature titled "Male Breast Cancer: Lost in the Sea of Pink." Currently, Sascha serves as the host and producer of local and state news content for the afternoon news program "All Things Considered" at WFSU. Sascha primarily covers criminal justice and social services issues. When she's not reporting, Sascha likes catching up on her favorite TV shows, singing and reading. Follow Sascha Cordner on Twitter:@SaschaCordner.