LaVon Bracy, 63, understands the stakes in Florida’s current voting rights battle all too well. Her father, the Rev. Thomas Wright, is a civil rights luminary and former NAACP president who spent much of the 1960s fighting segregation, often under threat of death. When his chapter of the NAACP sued Alachua County Public Schools to desegregate, a teenage Bracy sacrificed her senior year to help integrate a white school. She has no fond prom memories; instead she remembers the people spitting in her face, the regular chants of “nigger” that greeted her, and the beating she took from a group of white male students, who went unpunished.
Bracy’s beating was so traumatic that she stayed home from school for the next three days wondering whether to go back. But in the end, she returned. Bracy told the Voices of the Civil Rights project, “I refused to allow them to win.”
That was her thought this spring, too, as she plunged the New Covenant Baptist Church—the Orlando congregation she leads with her husband—into a voter registration campaign more dangerous than it has been in a generation.
In May 2011, Gov. Rick Scott signed into law HB 1355, a bill that once again put Florida at the center of the national debate over free and fair elections. The law dramatically changed the rules for both early voting and voter registration, creating a proc-?ess so complex and legally risky that groups like the League of Women Voters opted out of registering in the state altogether. Instead they sued, charging that the law is unconstitutional and violates the National Voter Registration Act. In late May of this year, a federal judge blocked the law’s most controversial provisions pending a trial. (In June, in a separate case, the Justice Department sued Florida to stop Secretary of State Ken Detzner from purging the rolls of 2,600 alleged noncitizens, hundreds of whom have since been shown to be legal voters.)
HB 1355’s still unfolding story offers a stark example of the changes that have taken place in the conversation about voting rights nationally over the past two years. Besides Florida, dozens of other states have passed or debated onerous changes to their voting rules since 2010. Advocates of these measures claim that the true threat to democracy isn’t low voter registration or turnout—it’s fraudulent voting.
But as the Florida ACLU recently pointed out, voter fraud is rarer than shark attacks in the state, a claim backed up by PolitiFact, which found just forty-nine investigations of fraud in Florida since 2008. In June the Orlando Sentinel reported that 178 cases of alleged voter fraud had been referred to the Florida Department of Law Enforcement since 2000, with just eleven arrests and seven convictions. So if fraud is virtually a nonexistent problem, what does Florida’s HB 1355 accomplish?
As its sponsor, State Senator Mike Bennett, made clear when the bill passed last year, its intent is to make voting more difficult. “I don’t have a problem making it harder,” Bennett said. “I want people in Florida to want to vote as bad as that person in Africa who walks 200 miles across the desert. This should not be easy.”
If reinstated, Bennett’s bill could unravel years of work by voting rights activists like Bracy to tear down the barriers that discourage African-Americans, Latinos and young people in particular from participating in our democracy. The law mandated for the first time in Florida’s history that people who conduct voter registration drives must themselves register with the state before signing up new voters. Once they register a new voter, they have forty-eight hours to submit that registration to the county under exacting specifications. Late or improper applications can result in stiff fines or even felony fraud charges and jail time. These requirements were burdensome enough to scare away even national groups with sophisticated processes for ensuring their registrations are valid. As the League of Women Voters’ Florida chapter president, Deirdre McNab, told MSNBC’s Al Sharpton, “These new laws frighten people from registering voters.”
The racial impact of Bennett’s bill is clear. According to the Brennan Center for Justice, black and Latino Floridians are more than twice as likely as white voters to register to vote through community-based voter registration drives. In 2008, more than 1.1 million black voters cast ballots in Florida, a record turnout driven in no small part by registration campaigns led by black churches. Of course, 96 percent voted for Barack Obama.
“They know they put these regulations in there to discourage people,” Bracy said. “They put these laws in with the idea that, ‘If we discourage enough of them, Florida will not be in Obama’s camp this year.’”
* * *
Bracy’s father probably couldn’t have imagined that his daughter would one day help to elect the first African-American president. But there she was, in 2008, decked head-to-toe in “Vote Obama” regalia at the Democratic National Convention in Denver as an elected delegate. The Obama campaign “would have these young, techie college students who needed only two hours of sleep a night, who would work twenty-two hours, and I knew all of them,” Bracy said about the campaign’s Orlando offices. “I had them over my house to feed them, and we talked strategy and had house parties. We were just wired up.”
Though she’s required to keep her political work separate from her church work for IRS reasons, all of Bracy’s associations—community, church and political—could easily have been an impetus for passing HB 1355. The law strikes directly at an enormously popular event that brought thousands of black churchfolk in congregations like hers straight to the polls.
Souls to the Polls—an early voting event led by black chur-?ches—turned voting into a cultural, even spiritual experience for many black voters. Early voting itself started in response to the Bush v. Gore debacle in 2000, which was exacerbated by voters having to wait in long lines at polling places. In 2002, counties were allowed to implement early voting systems at their discretion to eliminate this problem. In 2004, a statewide early voting system was set up, allowing voting to take place in the two weeks leading up to election day. On the Sunday before the election, choirs and preachers gave their best performances during morning services to get churchgoers motivated to vote that day. Thousands came out, including about 200 from Bracy’s church, which has roughly 1,200 active members.
Congresswoman Frederica Wilson, at the time a state legislator in Miami, helped organize Souls to the Polls in southern Florida in 2008 and remembers “food at the polls and music and gospel singing, so people enjoyed themselves while waiting. They served fried chicken, barbecue and fish sandwiches. It was great. We were voting in the first black president.”
Almost 54 percent of black Floridians voted early in 2008. A third of all early voters on the Sunday before election day were African-Americans; a quarter were Latinos. Obama proceeded to win Florida by just under 3 percentage points, much of that due to winning Orange County—which includes the city of Orlando—by the largest margin of any Democratic candidate in sixty-four years.
Registration was way up as well. In 2008 there were 1,468,682 African-American Floridians registered to vote for the general election, about 84 percent of whom registered as Democrats. There were twice as many registered black Democrats in 2008 as the total number of registered African-Americans in 1994, and more than the total number registered in 2004. This was largely thanks to community-led registration drives, responsible in both 2004 and 2008 for registering twice as many black and Latino voters as whites.
In addition, black and Latino turnout was boosted by then-Gov. Charlie Crist’s 2007 restoration of ex-offenders’ voting rights. Before 2007 Florida was one of three states that permanently disenfranchised all people convicted of felonies. But Crist amended the law so that nonviolent felons could more easily have their voting rights restored. More than 150,000 Floridians regained the right to vote as a result, according to the Brennan Center for Justice.
One of Scott’s first moves upon becoming governor was to reverse Crist’s reforms. Now, those with nonviolent felonies must wait five years after release from jail before being considered for voting rights restoration and must have no new convictions during that time. Those convicted of violent felonies must wait seven years. If you have unpaid restitution, you’re ineligible for restoration—and even to apply for a hearing, you must obtain copies of all the original court documents connected to your case.
These changes have dramatically scaled back the number of people who do apply. As of March 1, 2011, one week before Scott signed the law, there were close to 99,000 pending clemency cases involving the restoration of civil rights. As of May 2012, there were only 22,958 cases pending.
The changes in the voter registration process were equally stark. LaVon Bracy walked me through how she became a third-party voter registrar under the new law. The process seemed custom-made for creating errors and provoking penalties.
To begin, Bracy first had to fill out Form DS-DE 119 and send it to her county supervisor of elections, who then approved her as a voter registration agent. After that, she was assigned an identification number, which had to be recorded on every voter registration application she collected so that each one could be traced back to her. She then had to fill out Form DS-DE 120, an affidavit swearing that she understands she’ll be charged with a felony—with a penalty of up to five years’ imprisonment—if she attempts fraud. If she enlisted any staff or even walk-up volunteers for registration activities, they would also have to sign the affidavit acknowledging they understood the penalties.
When registering voters, she had to time-stamp each application so that the county knew exactly when the forty-eight-hour deadline clock started ticking for that specific registration. Within that forty-eight hours, Bracy made copies of each completed registration form and stored it in a white binder. She also had to review every application to make sure it was accurately filled out—because if anything was wrong, she could be charged with fraud.
She then physically transported the applications to the county. She could also mail them, but if any application arrived late, she’d be fined $50 per application ($250 if her tardiness was found “willful”). Other tardiness violations could raise the fines as high as $1,000 per application. If a completed application was lost in the mail or on the way to the county office, and someone else delivered it days later, that would elicit a fine. Also, the law demanded that registrars fill out monthly and quarterly reports on the number of people they registered, and would penalize them if they failed to hand in those reports on time.
Florida had turned what used to be a proud act of civic engagement into an experience as demanding as applying for a business loan and far more complicated than buying a gun. What’s more, these cumbersome rules do nothing to prevent deliberate fraud; they only increase the chances that mistakes are made—mistakes that can then be labeled evidence of attempted fraud to justify further restrictions on voting rights.
Although these rules are now blocked pending the resolution of the federal suit, they may have already had their intended effect. According to the New York Times, 81,471 fewer Floridians had registered to vote as of May 2012 than during the same period before the 2008 elections.
When Bracy knocks on doors today, she finds people whose spirits are broken. Many of her voter registration appeals are rejected. She hears a lot of fears and concerns, much of it based on misinformation. “Some feel that registering to vote will interfere with their welfare check,” Bracy said, “or that you’ll be harassed when you’re registered to vote.”
The misinformation is serious enough that the state’s Division of Elections addresses it on a webpage, “Election Myths vs Facts,” which dispels notions like “If a voter owes child support or has pending warrants against him or her, the police will arrest the voter at the polls.”
These rumors, however, play on a deeply held set of emotions that scholars have long tracked within black and immigrant communities in the South—a well-founded distrust of local authority. In her 2012 book Trust in Black America: Race, Discrimination and Politics, Shayla Nunnally, a professor at the University of Connecticut, shows that African-Americans are far less likely than their white neighbors to trust their local government.
Given this distrust, the black church is the only institution capable of winning the confidence of many African-Americans when it comes to voter registration. That’s why black churches were able to get so many people out to vote during Souls to the Polls, which is credited with a jump in voter turnout as high as 30 percent on the Sunday before election day in 2008.
This year, on the Sunday after Easter, Bracy didn’t set up in the back of her church to register new voters as she normally does. She had to race to Gainesville, where her father had been hospitalized for cancer. Given his age (92), death was a real possibility, but not anything Bracy wasn’t prepared for. At the church, she hosts workshops helping families learn how to manage end-of-life issues concerning wills, estates and funeral contracts. She calls her workshops “Grave Matters”—and yes, she also registers new voters at them.
Whatever the outcome of the suit against HB 1355, Bracy is determined to continue the work that her father’s been doing since she was a toddler, and that she’s been doing since those boys jumped her in school: navigating all the tripwires and land mines set up to keep her community from participating in democracy.
As Congressional Black Caucus chair Emanuel Cleaver said recently, “The day is over when [black preachers] could just stand in the pulpit and say, ‘Go vote. It’s your duty.’ They’ve got to now be equipped with some sophisticated information to help inspire a turnout and protect parishioners from some of the schemes that are out there.”
Bracy put it differently. “Yes, this process is a pain in the neck,” she said. “But I refuse to let them win. I refuse to say, ‘I’m not going to do it because there are all these hoops.’ I decided I’m going to jump through the hoops and do it anyway.”
Link to original article from The Nation
Florida Gov. Rick Scott’s (R) effort to save his state’s Medicaid program money on the backs of the poor just backfired.
In 2012, the Scott administration lobbied the federal Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services (CMS) to allow it to limit the number of times that Medicaid beneficiaries can frequent emergency rooms to six visits. The Obama administration rejected that request, arguing that it constitutes a violation of the Social Security Act by placing “an arbitrary limit” on a legally mandated benefit, and that it has the potential to harm poor patients,...
Sy Mukherjee | Think Progress 04 Mar 2014 Hits:539 Florida
Late on a Tuesday evening, at a Dupont Circle bistro that serves $11 mojitos, the congressman and the undercover officer talked about cocaine.
They talked about how much the congressman would have to pay for it. They talked about the quality of the drug for sale. Finally, they made a deal: $250 for 3.5 grams, an amount generally bought for personal use.
Outside, in a car, the drug and money changed hands. And then, suddenly, there were feds outside the vehicle.
Before that moment, Rep. Trey Radel (R-Fla.) had built a remarkable double...
David A. Fahrenthold, Keith L. Alexander and Sari Horwitz | The Washington Post 21 Nov 2013 Hits:414 Florida
Sen. Marco Rubio (R-Fla.) faced hecklers angry with his leadership on immigration reform at a Friday Tea Party summit in his home state.
According to reports, Rubio was met with cries of "No amnesty!" as he gave an address during the opening session of the Americans for Prosperity's Defending the American Dream Summit in Orlando.
The Florida senator joined a handful of other potential 2016 Republican presidential contenders, including Texas Gov. Rick Perry and Louisiana Gov. Bobby Jindal, at the summit on Friday. Texas Sen. Ted Cruz will keynote Saturday's closing session.
Alexandra Jaffe | The Hill 01 Sep 2013 Hits:725 Florida
(Photo: Phil Sears/ AP; Thumb: Dream Defenders/ Twitter)
Civil rights icon Harry Belafonte joins mass rally against discrimination
"I’m here because you called. I’m here because I am a part of your history," notable civil rights activist and musical icon Harry Belafonte declared Friday to a crowd of hundreds of demonstrators inside the main rotunda of the Florida capitol building.
The rally, billed as #theTakeover, was one of a number of demonstrations staged by the Dream Defenders since the group took residence in the capitol on July 16 in an ongoing sit-in to...
Lauren McCauley | Common Dreams 31 Jul 2013 Hits:533 Florida
When Florida lawmakers recently voted to ban all Internet cafes, they worded the bill so poorly that they effectively outlawed every computer in the state, according to a recent lawsuit.
In April Florida Governor Rick Scott approved a ban on slot machines and Internet cafes after a charity tied to Lt. Governor Jennifer Carroll was shut down on suspicion of being an Internet gambling front -- forcing Carroll, who had consulted with the charity, to resign.
Florida's 1,000 Internet cafes were shut down immediately, including Miami-Dade's Incredible Investments, LLC, a café that provides online services to migrant workers,...
Huffington Post 08 Jul 2013 Hits:841 Florida
Members of the Florida state Legislature rarely agree on anything. It's unusual for a bill to get unanimous support from the body. But as it turns out, there is one thing that both Republicans and Democrats really love: wildflowers. Florida lawmakers in both houses of the Legislature voted a collective 157 to 0 this spring to increase the fee for a special Florida wildflower license plate from $15 to $25 starting in July. The proceeds would have gone to the Florida Wildflower Foundation, which for 13 years has been using...
Stephanie Mencimer | Mother Jones 18 Jun 2013 Hits:790 Florida
Fourteen-year-old Tremaine McMillian didn't threaten police. He didn't attack them. He wasn't armed. All the black teenager did was appear threatening by shooting Miami-Dade police officers a few "dehumanizing stares," and that was apparently enough for the officers to decide to slam him against the ground and put him in a chokehold.
During Memorial Day weekend, McMillian was rough-housing with another teenager on the sand. Police approached the teen on an ATV and told him that wasn't acceptable behavior. They asked him where his parents were, but MicMillian attempted to walk...
Kyle Munzenrieder | Miami NewTimes 30 May 2013 Hits:774 Florida
The Florida teenager who was arrested two weeks ago for causing a small explosion on the campus of her high school will not be charged with a crime. Kiera Wilmot, 16, was arrested by police in Bartow, Florida, after conducting an unauthorized science experiment which lightly damaged an eight ounce plastic water bottle.
At the time, Wilmot faced possible charges for “possessing or discharging weapons or firearms at a school sponsored event or on school property.” If she had been convicted, she could have faced up to five years in prison.
Ned Resnikoff | MSNBC.com 16 May 2013 Hits:862 Florida
Two top Democratic fundraisers in Florida have committed to providing the money and know-how to get the question of legalizing medical marijuana on the state ballot in 2014.
"I'm prepared to keep raising money and writing checks until I get the signatures to put it on the ballot," attorney John Morgan said late on Tuesday.
Morgan, who routinely hosts presidents and national political figures at his Orlando-area home, recently signed on as chairman of People United for Medical Marijuana-Florida, a grassroots campaign that operated on a shoestring until now.
Morgan was recruited by...
Barbara Liston | Reuter's 22 Apr 2013 Hits:750 Florida
On September 17, 2011 Occupy Wall Street coalesced into sudden view, built from long work by many organizers, the promptings of Adbusters magazine, and the accumulated frustration, anger and desperation of decades of escalating class warfare by financial and corporate elites against ordinary people. A small group of young people near Lake Worth, Florida recognized themselves in the actions of the mostly young people in New York, and began to plan their own Occupation.
People on local union, Democratic Party, progressive and other e-mail lists were invited to a rally at...
Mike Budd | Palm Beach Progressive Post 22 Jan 2013 Hits:656 Florida
Internal email messages uncovered by Health News Florida reveal that Gov. Rick Scott (R-FL) is knowingly citing inaccurate cost estimates to justify his refusal to expand Florida’s Medicaid program. Though the governor’s office is fully aware that the numbers are wrong, Scott continues to use them anyway, the documents show.
Florida, which has one of the highest rates of uninsurance in the nation, could extend health coverage to about one million low-income residents by accepting Obamacare’s optional Medicaid expansion. But the governor — an ardent Obamacare opponent — has...
Tara Culp-Ressler | Think Progress 08 Jan 2013 Hits:992 Florida
Former Florida Gov. Charlie Crist, who was elected as the state's chief executive as a Republican and then ran unsuccessfully for the U.S. Senate as an independent, announced on Twitter on Friday night that he's switching to the Democratic Party.
The announcement fanned speculation that Crist was gearing up to seek to regain his old job from Republican Gov. Rick Scott in 2014.
Crist sent out a Tweet that said, "Proud and honored to join the Democratic Party in the home of President (at)Barack Obama!"
The Tweet included a...
Gary Fineout | Associated Press 08 Dec 2012 Hits:1021 Florida
As the St. John Progressive Missionary Baptist Church vans pulled up to the C. Blythe Andrews library polling place to let congregants out to vote, a line already snaked out the voting entrance. A table was set up on one end of the library’s parking lot where volunteers served fried fish and hush puppies. A DJ blared gospel music that could be heard blocks away. It was after-church Sunday, the first and only Sunday of “Souls to the Polls” in most of Florida, and the second...
Brentin Mock and Voting Rights Watch | the Nation 30 Oct 2012 Hits:904 Florida
On the last day to register for the 2012 election, new Democratic voters outnumber the GOP by six-to-one or more.
Don’t get depressed by the latest polls with Mitt Romney pulling ahead in Florida or by reports of the GOP’s plans to steal the election there by falsifying Democratic voter registration files. Tuesday is the final day to register to vote for the presidential election in Florida and Democrats have trounced the GOP’s efforts to register voters.
Consider these numbers from the Florida Secretary of State’s...
Steven Rosenfeld | AlterNet 09 Oct 2012 Hits:1497 Florida
PORT ST. LUCIE, Fla. — Seeking to capitalize on his commanding debate performance last week, Mitt Romney tried to turn the enthusiasm of large crowds during a three-day visit to Florida into momentum to carry a state that, by all accounts, is crucial to his path to the White House.
His effort to capture a state that President Obama won in 2008 came on a day when the usual pattern of the race was reversed: while Mr. Romney has been criticized by some Republicans for spending too...
Trip Gabriel | The New York Times 08 Oct 2012 Hits:838 Florida
Despite the heat and threat of thunderstorms, about 500 African-Americans are gathered in Rowlett Park for an end-of-summer day of barbecuing, dancing and playing cards. It’s the fifth annual Old School Picnic, a community park jam that brings together two black neighborhoods that were torn apart when the College Hill and Ponce de Leon public housing projects were razed in 2000. Earlier that morning, President Barack Obama held a massive campaign rally in nearby St. Petersburg, trying to turn out every last...
Brentin Mock | The Nation 29 Sep 2012 Hits:1043 Florida
Florida elections officials said Friday that at least 10 counties have identified suspicious and possibly fraudulent voter registration forms turned in by a firm working for the Republican Party of Florida, which has filed an election fraud complaint with the state Division of Elections against its one-time consultant.
The controversy in Florida -- which began with possibly fraudulent forms that first cropped up in Palm Beach County -- has engulfed the Republican National Committee, which admitted Thursday that it urged state parties in seven swing states...
By Matea Gold, Joseph Tanfani and Melanie Mason | LosAngeles Times Politics 29 Sep 2012 Hits:1194 Florida
In a partial victory for voter rights and immigrant groups, Florida residents who were mistakenly removed from the voter rolls this year because the state classified them as noncitizens will be returned to the rolls and allowed to vote in November.
The Florida Department of State, which initiated the review of noncitizens on the voter rolls, also agreed Wednesday to inform the 2,625 people on the list who are eligible to vote that their voting rights had been fully restored. Still unresolved is whether Florida...
Lizette Alvarez | The New York Times 13 Sep 2012 Hits:993 Florida
Florida's Republican governor Rick Scott loathes Obamacare so much that he turned down $40 million in federal health care funds that would keep hundreds of disabled kids at home with their parents, rather than warehoused in nursing homes. So says the Department of Justice, whose civil rights division recently investigated the situation in Florida.
ABC News reported this weekend that, in a letter to Florida's attorney general, the Justice Department cited the case of a "5-year-old child, a quadriplegic after a car accident, who had been...
Stephanie Mencimer | Mother Jones 11 Sep 2012 Hits:4209 Florida
On September 12, the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) of Florida and partner organizations will host a coalition of individuals impacted by restrictive voting regulations in Florida sharing their stories about combating disenfranchisement and informing voters about their rights at “Let Me Vote: The Faces of Voter Suppression Become the Voices of Voter Empowerment.” The event marks the launch of the ACLU of Florida’s “Let Me Vote” campaign, part of a nationwide ACLU program of the same name aiming to get accessible,...
ACLU Florida 10 Sep 2012 Hits:829 Florida
They were classic buttoned-up conservatives, but I couldn’t believe my ears. “Are you guys performance artists?” "No," Stevens snorted.
Just a few minutes earlier, two men who identified themselves as Robert Stevens and John Nelson had handed me a flyer. It explained that they wanted the state of Florida to pass a “Protect the Polls law” under which “anyone suspected of committing voter fraud can be fired upon – provided the weapon is registered and operated by its licensed owner.”
The two 28-year-olds, who said...
Arun Gupta | AlterNet 30 Aug 2012 Hits:1199 Florida
Activist group Code Pink, protesting this week at the Republican National Convention, marched through the streets of Tampa on Monday dressed as a group of giant vaginas to speak out…
Thousands of Republicans from around the country will descend upon Tampa, Florida next week for the Republican National Convention, and if recent history is any guide, so too…
Florida Gov. Rick Scott on Tuesday flatly rejected any talk of expanding the number of early-voting days in the state prior to this year's presidential election despite a…
Florida's disgraced former GOP chairman says the party had meetings about "keeping blacks from voting"
Former Florida Republican Party chairman Jim Greer in 2008(Credit: AP/Reinhold Matay)
In the debate over new laws…
After evaluating answers to our initial, detailed questionnaire, our Steering Committee is pleased to recommend the following candidates for local, state, and national office. These candidates have demonstrated an understanding…
Florida Governor Rick Scott has spoken a lot about cutting government spending, lowering taxes for corporations, and removing social safety nets that millions of people rely on. But while…
Despite a warning from the Centers for Disease Control, it's the latest move by the Florida governor to gut public services.
Welcome to Sunshine State: Republican-run since 1998, tea …
LaVon Bracy, 63, understands the stakes in Florida’s current voting rights battle all too well. Her father, the Rev. Thomas Wright, is a civil rights luminary and former…
The U.S. Justice Department is suing the state of Florida to force it to stop purging its voter rolls of what it alleges are up to 180,000 non-citizen…
PDA is organized around several core issues. These issues include:
Each team hosts a monthly conference call. Calls feature legislators, staffers and other policy experts. On these calls we determine PDA legislation to support as well as actions and future events.
For support in organizing within your state, contact:
State LeadershipMike Fox
Email us at: email@example.com
Broward County - CD 17, 19, 20, 21, 22 and 23Daytona Beach - CD 07 and 24Hillsborough County - CD 09 and 11Martin County - CD 16 and 23Miami - CD 17 and 20Orange CountyPalm Beach County - CD 16, 19 22 and 23Pinellas County - CD 09, 10 and 11Polk County - CD 12Sarasota County - CD 17 and 20Tallahassee Want to bring progressive change to Florida? Start a PDA chapter; send us an email and we'll get you started.