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Strong Enforcement of Voter Protections Needed in Florida to Stop "Bullies at the Ballot Box"
New study grades Florida's ability to counter partisan poll watchers and wrongful voter challenges
As the elections approach, strong enforcement of voter protections is needed to prevent attempts to block Florida voters from casting their ballot, according to a report released today by voting rights groups Demos and Common Cause.
The study, "Bullies at the Ballot Box: Protecting the Freedom to Vote from Wrongful Challenges and Intimidation" focuses on voter protection laws in Florida and nine other states where elections are expected to be close, or where large challenger operations are expected or have taken place during recent elections.
The study concludes that Florida generally has unsatisfactory laws on the books, and that there is plenty of work yet to be done to protect voters from voter intimidation and attempts to kick registered voters off the rolls.
True the Vote and other Tea Party-affiliated groups are reportedly recruiting 1 million volunteers to object to the qualifications of voters in targeted communities on and before Election Day, according to the study. These volunteers are being rallied to block, in their own words, the "illegal alien vote" and "the food stamp army." Their stated goal is to make the experience of voting "like driving and seeing the police behind you."
"Voting must be free, fair and accessible to all, and voters should know their rights," said Common Cause President Bob Edgar. "It is important to maintain the integrity of our election system, and that means that candidates, parties and political activists should be focused on persuading and turning out voters, not bullying them or trying to manipulate the law to freeze them out of our democracy."
"We call on elections officials and law enforcement at the state and federal level to stand ready to enforce the law and aggressively protect every eligible American's right to vote this November," said Liz Kennedy, report co-author and Counsel at Demos. "Wrongful challenges and intimidating tactics should never stand between Americans and their right to have their voices heard on the issues that affect their lives. There should be zero tolerance for bullying at the ballot box."
Florida has unsatisfactory protections for voters from wrongful challenges to their right to vote before and on Election Day. It receives a mixed assessment on its laws protecting voters from intimidation by partisan poll watchers on Election Day inside and outside the polls:
- In Florida, it is helpful that challenges both before and on Election Day must be in writing and under oath, and that making frivolous challenges to a voter's eligibility is a misdemeanor. However, Florida should allow voters who have been challenged to vote a regular ballot upon signing an affirmation of their eligibility, and it is problematic that these voters are relegated to provisional ballots.
- Challenges before Election Day, however, can only be filed in the very last 30 days before an election, which could burden election officials with administrative headaches at an already busy time before voters go to the polls.
- It is helpful that poll watchers in Florida are prohibited from photographing voters and must be approved before Election Day. Only one watcher from each party is allowed.
- Florida's anti-intimidation laws prohibit threatening or using intimidation or coercion to interfere with the vote. People are also prohibited from soliciting for "facts" or "opinions" within 100 feet of the polling place. Florida's existing protections must be enforced to protect Americans from voter intimidation and improper attempts to kick registered voters off the rolls.
The ten states reviewed in "Bullies at the Ballot Box" are Colorado, Florida, Missouri, Nevada, New Hampshire, North Carolina, Ohio, Pennsylvania, Texas and Virginia. In addition to assessing the current state laws, the report provides recommendations to protect citizens from large-scale, well-organized efforts to intimidate or block them from voting.
"It is important that all participants understand the rules and respect the right of all eligible Americans to vote free of intimidation or obstruction. We want to minimize the risk of positive civic engagement moving into disrupting the orderly conduct of elections," said Liz Kennedy. "Unwarranted challenges to voters' eligibility can lead to problems at the polls for everyone seeking to cast a ballot by depleting resources, distracting officials, and leading to longer lines. They threaten the fair administration of elections and the fundamental freedom to vote."
"Voting is one of our most fundamental rights," said Common Cause's Edgar. "No eligible voter should be blocked from casting a ballot, and the entire voting rights community is mobilized to protect voters' rights."
Common Cause and Demos are part of the Election Protection coalition, the nation's largest non-partisan voter protection coalition. Common Cause and coalition allies are recruiting and organizing non partisan Election Day monitors to help voters understand the voting rules in their state and report any and all efforts to discourage or intimidate voters. Through the 1-866-OUR-VOTE hotline and a comprehensive field deployment, Election Protection helps voters overcome obstacles to the ballot box while collecting data for meaningful reform. Over 100 organizations have joined forces to monitor polling places across the country and provide aid, including legal assistance, to voters who encounter obstacles to voting.
Common Cause is a nonpartisan grassroots organization dedicated to upholding the core values of American democracy. We work to create open, honest, and accountable government that serves the public interest; promote equal rights, opportunity, and representation for all; and empower all people to make their voices heard in the political process.