Florida Voting Rights Advocates File Lawsuit Blocking Voter Suppression Law Targeting Black and Brown Voters
Jeralyn Cave, [email protected], (202) 921-7321
Colleen Roache, [email protected]
Elianne Ramos, [email protected]
TALLAHASSEE, Fl. — Today, a coalition of voting rights organizations filed a lawsuit in the U.S. District Court for the Northern District of Florida to block the implementation of Senate Bill 90, Florida’s discriminatory voter suppression law. The new law creates major obstacles to vote-by-mail, curtails access to drop boxes, and criminalizes line warming activities such as providing water to voters. The lawsuit, announced during a press conference, was filed by Advancement Project National Office, Demos, and LatinoJustice PRLDEF on behalf of Florida Rising, Faith in Florida, Equal Ground Education Fund, UnidosUS, the Hispanic Federation and Poder Latinx.
“Every voter, regardless of race, background or zip code, should be able to make themselves heard at the ballot box,” said Judith Browne Dianis, Executive Director of Advancement Project National Office. “SB 90 aggressively and discriminately violates this principle by imposing barriers on voters of color and disproportionately locking them out of democracy.”
The legal complaint asserts that the new law violates the Voting Rights Act and unlawfully abridges voters’ rights to voter assistance at polling locations. It also details how the new law will disproportionately disenfranchise Black and Brown voters and harm the work of civic engagement organizations.
“In a country where we celebrate democracy, voting should be made accessible for everyone; but instead of making voting easier, SB 90 adds unnecessary hurdles to the process,” said Laudi Campo, Deputy Director of Hispanic Federation Florida. “It reduces access to the polls in various ways, makes it harder for people to vote, and confuses voters by changing common-sense rules that have increased voter participation. Voting rights have never been given to people of color; we had to fight for them. We are not asking for special treatment; we ask to keep in place measures that have proven to increase voter participation in our community. ”
“Florida’s law is a wholly unjustifiable effort to silence voters, and the fact that it follows an election in which Black and Brown people in major cities like Miami, Orlando, and Tampa raised their voices is no coincidence,” said Stuart Naifeh, Senior Counsel at Demos. “This violation of the Voting Rights Act is part of an anti-democratic pattern levied in response to increasing engagement among young people and voters of color. We cannot — and will not — allow that pattern to stand.”
“Florida voters make up the engine of our democracy. To make our democracy accessible, we must protect the voting rights of all, including the rights of Latino communities who comprise a record 17% of registered voters in this state,” said Kira Romero-Craft, Southeast Region Director at LatinoJustice PRLDEF. “SB 90 is an anti-voter law and an attempt by the Florida legislature to take away the votes of the increasing population of Latino, Black, and other communities of color, including blind and disabled voters in Florida. Make no mistake about it; this action by the Florida legislature was set in place after a record number of voters of color turned out to have their voices heard during the 2020 elections. Together, LatinoJustice, along with our partners, will combat the unlawful provisions of SB 90 aimed to turn back the clock on democracy and continue to fight to ensure equal participation, democratic principles, and freedom for all.”
“Using precise restrictions to strike at the ways in which voters of color cast their ballots is not about strengthening democracy, it is about restricting it to a few voters,” said Moné Holder, Senior Director of Advocacy and Programs at Florida Rising. “Elected officials should not choose their constituents, and they do not have the authority to deprive people of color of their right to vote. We will fight SB 90 and ensure that all voters, regardless of race, income or neighborhood, get the access to the ballot that our democracy is designed for.”
“SB 90 is a demonic law that intentionally suppresses the votes of Black and Brown people,” said Pastor Rhonda Thomas, Executive Director of Faith in Florida. “Considering that people of color have fought for decades for the right to vote—and to ensure their votes are counted—it is offensive that state lawmakers would attempt to take us back to Jim Crow to maintain their own power. Who would do something so evil? This law will not only impact current voters, but will also impact the generations to come. If my grandchildren ask me ‘grandma, did you fight?’ I want to be able to say, ‘yes I did.’ And that’s just one reason why we’re waging this lawsuit.”
“SB 90 has absolutely nothing to do with election integrity and everything to do with handing out red meat to the base of the previous administration that falsely and dangerously claims there was voter fraud.” said Giulianna Di Lauro, Poder Latinx Florida State Director. “Limiting drop box hours and increasing measures on how ballots can be delivered will only deter people from casting their ballots and increase lines at polling places. These restrictions are even more damaging to Latinx, Black and Brown, and working class voters who work irregular hours and rely on their community for assistance in dropping off ballots. It is yet another veiled voter suppression tool and we will take every action available to us to protect our constitutional right to vote.”
As the organizations stated in the complaint, vote-by-mail was increasingly being used by Floridians and, in the 2020 election, voters of color relied on it in pronounced margins. Approximately 40 percent of all votes cast by African American voters were cast by mail, double the percentage in 2016. Latinos increased their use of mail ballots by more than 50% since 2016. The Florida legislature had repeatedly made mail voting more accessible to voters — until voters of color started using the practice more.
“Despite a steady stream of attacks on the right to vote of Floridians of color, Florida was simultaneously known for having built reliable vote-by-mail and drop box systems,” said Jasmine Burney-Clark, Founder of Equal Ground Education. “The only thing that’s changed is that certain politicians are afraid of Black and Brown people using their voice like we did in 2020. We are here to say that Florida cannot have it both ways. It cannot be that we build up vote-by-mail when it works for one community but restrict it when people of color start using it. Everyone should be able to make themselves heard equally at the ballot, and we’re not going to relent until that’s a reality in Florida.”
“Florida’s law is a direct attack on the right to vote of all Floridians and is aimed in particular at suppressing the votes of African American, Hispanic voters and voters living with disabilities,” said Arnold and Porter Senior Pro Bono Counsel John Freedman. “As such, it violates the Voting Rights Act, the U.S. Constitution and other federal statutes. At a time when it is critical to make it as easy as possible for all eligible people to vote, Florida has chosen to create more obstacles to voting, for no reasonable purpose.”
Black and Latino voters cast ballots in drop boxes in 2020, a critical element in reducing the wait time on lines for in person voting. SB 90 does not outright ban drop boxes—after all, they are an important tool for casting ballots—but it will make them unusable for many voters who will not be able to deliver a ballot during business hours. An effect of this change will be more crowded polling places, with voters having less options to exercise their right to vote.
Read the full complaint here.