Local and national voting rights groups voiced opposition Monday to an elections bill that's awaiting a final vote in the Senate on Wednesday. The groups zeroed in on a provision in the bill (HB 7013) that changes the law for voters who need assistance at the polls. Under the change, sponsored by Sen. Jack Latvala, R-Clearwater, a person seeking to assist a voter at the polls must already know the person, and no one may assist more than 10 voters in an election.
"These restrictions on assistors will make it harder to vote, particularly for many of Florida's Latino and Hispanic residents," the groups said in advance of a conference call with Florida reporters.
The organizations included Florida New Majority, the Advancement Project, Service Employees International Union Local 1199, Florida Immigrant Coalition and Florida Conference of the NAACP. They said the Senate bill
would disenfranchise voters who can't read English. Advocates cited Section 208 of the federal Voting Rights Act of 1965, which provides that a person who needs assistance as a result of blindness, disability, or the inability to read or write can receive assistance "from the person of his or her choice," provided it's not an agent or officer of
the voter’s employer or union.
The House has not yet voted on the controversial provision limiting voter assistance at the polls. House
Speaker Will Weatherford, R-Wesley Chapel, said Monday that House leaders have concerns about various provisions of the Senate bill, but he did not cite specifics.
Latvala, in Senate floor debate last week, said the ability of people to help voters cast ballots is being abused in Florida. "It's become kind of a political tool in many areas to have folks who stay at precincts all day offering their services to go in and help people vote, and in many cases in an intimidating fashion," Latvala said.
Gihan Perera of Florida New Majority called Latvala's description "false." People who are actively trying to influence people's vote choices must stay a safe distance from the polling precinct, Perera said.
Sen. Oscar Braynon, D-Miami Gardens, who unsuccessfully sought to remove the provision from the Senate bill, said one reason for historically long lines at the polls in Miami-Dade last fall was that too few volunteers were available to assist Haitian voters who only speak Creole.
-- Steve Bousquet