Jesse Jackson urges East Tampa residents to fight Florida's controversial elections laws
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07/27/11 Kate Bradshaw
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Left to right: ACLU Florida head Howard Simon, State Rep. Betty Reed, Rev. Jesse Jackson, and State Sen. Arthenia Joyner


photo by Kate Bradshaw, WMNF

Many Floridians are up in arms about changes to state election laws. Critics say the new laws aim to restrict turnout among those who tend to vote Democratic, especially low-income minorities. Yesterday one of the most well-known civil rights champions was in East Tampa urging residents to fight the new laws with all their might.

As fellow civil rights activists urged the crowd to do battle against changes to the way Florida votes, the Reverend Jesse Jackson sat on stage in a throne-like chair. The crowd had packed into the East Tampa congregation of former Tampa City Council member Thomas Scott, also a reverend. Jackson was in town to urge residents to stand up against new state laws some say will disenfranchise many Florida voters. Jackson said attempts to suppress votes aren’t unique to the Sunshine State.

Jackson, who is founder and chair of the Rainbow-Push Coalition, had a map of the United States that highlighted the states many believe are trying to restrict voting rights. Jackson said the attempt is occurring on a national level.

He said Florida’s attempt at voter suppression has come in the form of House Bill 1355. State Senator Arthenia Joyner, a Democrat from Tampa, was there when the legislature took up the bill. She said it looked nothing like the legislation that had been floating around in the state senate. She said an overwhelming GOP majority in the legislature ensured its passage, which gives citizens who oppose it even more reason to speak out.

The bill, which needs approval from the US Department of Justice, changes the way Floridians vote in several ways. It limits the number early voting days, shrinks the window in which third party entities can submit voter registration forms, and requires those who have recently moved to file a provisional ballot. Former state Chief Financial Officer Alex Sink, who unsuccessfully ran for governor against Rick Scott last year, said the laws are un-American.

She said anything that compromises a segment of the population’s ability to vote can drastically skew election results. She said her loss to Rick Scott last November is a case-in-point.

Proponents of the new laws say they aim to stamp out voter fraud. Howard Simon, Director of the ACLU of Florida, said even the governor has admitted there hasn’t been a substantial record of voter fraud.

The federal government is still reviewing Florida’s new elections laws. Jesse Jackson urged those packed into the congregation to call, email, or write US Attorney General Eric Holder and tell him to overturn the controversial elections law. For more information, go to rainbowpush.org.

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