FDP Chairman Terrie Rizzo Outlines Party Efforts to Protect Florida Voters
Published April 17, 2019 Orlando Sentinel
Florida has a history of razor-thin elections. Unfortunately, it also has a long history of voter suppression.
With more than 8 million votes cast in 2018, only 10,033 votes separated Rick Scott and Bill Nelson in the race for the U.S. Senate. In that same election, fewer than 33,000 votes separated Andrew Gillum and Ron DeSantis for governor. Barack Obama won the state by less than 1 percent in 2012, and after almost six million votes were cast in 2000, the final vote difference between Al Gore and George W. Bush was 537 votes.
In Florida, when we say every vote counts, we really mean it. Protecting the right to vote and increasing voter participation should have broad bipartisan support. Yet, a divide has emerged in Florida: on one side, Republican politicians are trying to make it harder for Floridians to vote; while Democrats are registering voters and working to protect voting rights.
Last November voters from both parties overwhelmingly supported expanding voting rights in Florida by approving Amendment 4, which restored the right to vote to ex-felons after they completed their sentences.
That fact hasn’t stopped GOP state Rep. Jamie Grant, who sponsored a bill to redefine the terms of finishing a sentence and legal reentry into society. Rep. Grant’s bill would mandate that transportation and medical fees be paid to get back the right to vote. These kinds of fees are not part of a sentence, they are not imposed by a judge, and not everyone can afford to pay them immediately upon re-entering society. Grant’s bill in the House passed with solely Republican support and Republican Gov. Ron DeSantis has hinted he may sign anti-Amendment 4 legislation. This bill would serve only one goal: to suppress the vote by overturning Amendment 4 and blocking returning citizens from voting.
Florida had a poll tax once, and we must ensure nothing remotely like it ever becomes law again.
But, Florida Republicans aren’t content to stop with a modern poll tax that requires citizens pay fees to the government for the right to vote. Florida Republicans also are pushing another anti-voter bill, HB 7101. This bill would restrict the number of days Floridians can vote by mail. If the bill had been law in 2018, more than 53,000 votes could have been invalidated. This bill has already made it out of committee and could very well become law.
Floridians don’t support these blatant attempts at voter suppression, and we all expect better from our elected leaders.
As Chair of the Florida Democratic Party, I am determined to fight, at every step, Republicans’ efforts to suppress the vote, strip Floridians of their constitutional rights, and disenfranchise voters — particularly voters of color.
That’s why the Florida Democratic Party is investing $2.8 million to register 200,000 new voters before the Florida presidential primary. We are also launching a paid student organizing program called Organizing Corps 2020, that will train over 200 students to organize and register new voters beginning in the summer of 2019. The program is simple: provide paid training and mentorship to Florida college juniors who will organize their communities this summer, their college campuses in the fall and join a Democratic campaign as a trained field organizer in 2020. And it’s targeted at lifting up the voters whom Republicans have tried hardest to disenfranchise: young people and voters of color.
But, with the history of voter suppression in our state, we cannot simply register new voters and then leave them to fend for themselves in 2020. In this legislative session, the Florida GOP has shown their cards. They are trying to disqualify the votes of Floridians in advance of the 2020 election. That is why we are also launching a year-round voter protection program. If this legislative session has taught us anything, it is that voter suppression happens well in advance of an election.
It pains me to see Republican leaders working so hard to restrict voting rights in Florida. It begs the question: when Democrats are working so hard to lift up our democracy and ensure more people vote, why are Republicans doing the exact opposite?
–Terrie Rizzo is the Chair of the Florida Democratic Party.