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Gadsden Commissioner Brenda Holt worries Florida's new 'elections police' unit will scare Black voters

Close up of African-American woman wearing mask putting vote bulletin in ballot box and looking at camera while standing against American flag on election day.
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State elections groups, the Southern Poverty Law Center and Seminole County’s elections supervisor testified remotely Wednesday before a U.S. House subcommittee examining elections law changes.

Florida lawmakers authorized the creation of a new department to investigate election fraud claims. Dubbed “the election police” by critics. it will fall under the purview of Florida’s new secretary of state who is an ally of Gov. Ron DeSantis. The new unit in the Florida Department of State has Democrats and voting rights groups, nervous.

“The term ‘elections police’ is intimidating because citizens don’t know if there are going to be officers at the polling place. To do this in an election year is intimidating also,” said Gadsden County Commissioner Brenda Holt of her majority Black county.

For decades Black and brown communities faced violence when they tried to vote. Democrats say Republicans are using fraud fears and DeSantis-backed redistricting changes that eliminate a minority access congressional seat in North Florida, to silence Black and Latino voices.

Governor Ron DeSantis has said the state’s 2020 elections were among the best in years. Despite that, he used claims of elections fraud to sponsor a series of changes to the state’s elections laws, placing more restrictions on ballot drop boxes, and vote by mail, which was popular among minorities and young people. Another point of contention is a list-maintenance policy that’s problematic to All Voting Is Local’s Brad Ashwell.

“One provision directly targeting Latino voters is a list-maintenance provision that would require DHSMV to provide non-citizen data to the state monthly…this is historically flawed data and it's not set up to accurately capture newly naturalized citizens,” he said.

Congressman Brian Steil, R-Wisconsin, pointed the finger at Democrats for criticism of what he says are laws like Florida’s that are meant to shore up election integrity.

“What we’re actually seeing is laws being put in place that make it easy to vote and hard to cheat,” Steil said.

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Lynn Hatter is a Florida A&M University graduate with a bachelor’s degree in journalism. Lynn has served as reporter/producer for WFSU since 2007 with education and health care issues as her key coverage areas.  She is an award-winning member of the Capital Press Corps and has participated in the NPR Kaiser Health News Reporting Partnership and NPR Education Initiative. 

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