Voting rights activists demand stop to legislation that would limit voting assistance

04/23/13 Janelle Irwin
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A bill being considered in the Florida Senate would change the way people with special needs can get help casting ballots during elections. During a press conference in front of bill sponsor Senator Jack Latvala’s Clearwater office Tuesday, activists demanded he remove his support of the bill they worry will make it harder for people to get help and burden poll workers. The ACLU’s Central Florida director, Joyce Hamilton Henry calls the measure an invitation for litigation.

The measure would prohibit poll assisters from helping more than ten people. It goes even further by requiring volunteers to only help people they knew personally prior to the election. Elena McCullough is the state director of the group Mi Familia Vota that helps individuals cast their ballots - particularly minorities, people with language barriers and the elderly. She argues the bill could suffocate efforts by groups that help people vote.

Other provisions in the bill solve some problems activists have been trying to tackle. For example, it would limit the number of words in ballot summaries. Long descriptions on Florida’s 2012 ballot were blamed for lengthy wait times on Election Day and during early voting. Another part of the bill would force supervisors of elections to designate one additional early voting location per county. Tim Heberlein, political director for the Florida Consumer Action Network says he would support the bill if Latvala’s limitation on poll assisters was taken out.

Activists called on constituents to send the Pinellas County Senator messages on twitter opposing the elections bill using the hashtag “free the vote”. Awake Pinellas’s Kofi Hunt says twitter bombs are an innovative new tool to help activists make sure their message is being heard.

The group of ten opponents to the Republican senator’s bill delivered letters to Latvala’s office emphasizing their opposition. Latvala is in Tallahassee and was unavailable for comment. A vote on Senate Bill 600 is expected Wednesday in the state legislature.

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