Elected official speaks out against Florida election law ahead of Senate hearing in Tampa
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01/26/12 Janelle Irwin
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U.S. Representative Kathy Castor and Brian Goff of USF's Student Government discuss problems with Florida's new voting law.


photo by Janelle Irwin

Several elected officials are concerned that Florida’s new voting law will make it harder for students and minorities to cast their votes. In preparation of a hearing to evaluate the law, U.S. member of Congress Kathy Castor spoke out against the law Thursday.

Last year, Governor Rick Scott signed a law he said would cut down on voter fraud. Among other things, it reduces the number of early voting days. At the West Tampa Branch Library, U.S. Representative Kathy Castor said she expects a large turnout of protestors at a hearing tomorrow that will evaluate the law for fairness.

“We’re not going to let Governor Rick Scott’s voter suppression law, which was a coordinated effort with other states, suppress our vote. We’re going to work to have it overturned, but folks must be vigilant all across their community. If you value democracy and you value your opportunity to cast your vote and make your voice heard, you must join this effort to overturn Governor Rick Scott’s voter suppression law.”

Opponents of the law argue some people with low incomes can’t afford to update information on their IDs and voter registration. Sylvia Alvarez of the National Council of La Raza said the housing crisis has forced many people to move.

“The foreclosure crisis has really hit minorities very hard and we’re really felling it here in the Hispanic community. The problem is, if someone has changed their address and they show up to vote and they don’t have the same address that’s on their identification it’s going to be a provisional vote, not an actual vote. So, that is disenfranchising the Hispanic community.”

The law also increases red tape for outside groups to register voters. Brian Goff is the Attorney General of USF’s Student Government. He said they’ve already seen a decline in the number of voter drives since the law was signed.

“Because we were allowed to fill out the registration and then when we had a significant amount of them or enough – we’re students too so we have to go to classes and all that stuff – we were able to send them out, get the students registered. Well, now there’s 48 hours and they added a whole bunch of procedural things to it, the University is worried about us doing it, you know the student government association is worried. We don’t want to get fined. We don’t want to get penalized and so we’ve had to try to coordinate efforts with the election offices of Tampa to get officials from them, representatives from them, here on campus to register students to vote with us, in conjunction with us and it’s proven to be quite a challenge to coordinate our schedules of students with their schedules.”

Hillsborough is one of five Florida counties that have to receive pre-clearance for changes to voting laws. That’s because Hillsborough and the other four counties had a history of voter discrimination. Former Tampa City Council member Tom Scott said this law is a direct attack on minorities and a giant step backwards.

“If you recall the civil rights struggle, many, many people went to jails, had dogs sicked on them, people died for the right to vote and here we are now in the 21st century making it more difficult for voters rather than making it easier for them to vote. So, we’re finding that Rick Scott and the legislature are trying to make it a lot more difficult.”

And current Tampa city council member Charlie Miranda said the law is an insult to all of the people who made the right to vote possible.

A lot of people have died in this country for our freedom. It is time that we discontinue these avenues of suppressing people from staying away from the poles. We want to encourage people to go to the poles no matter who they vote for. This is not about a part. This is not about a D or an R or an I. This is about people and these things should not be a part of any law. Let the people vote. Let their vote count and let the election be fair. That’s all we ask you for, a fair election.

U.S. Senator Dick Durban of Illinois chairs the judiciary subcommittee on the Constitution, Civil Rights and Human Rights. At a field hearing in Tampa Friday, he will hear from expert witnesses in the area of elections, student government, and legal matters to evaluate whether the law suppresses voter’s rights.




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