Black and Latinx communities must leap weird hurdles to protect their constitutional right to vote.
Puerto Ricans are changing the face of Florida. Literally.
Hurricane Maria heavily damaged the island state of Puerto Rico, forcing many residents to find safety elsewhere. Unsurprisingly, many of those seeking a new home sought refuge in the nearest U.S. state: Florida.
But anyone watching the news will tell you that those seeking shelter in the US, whether from bad weather or violence, will face a tough time confronting the Trump administration’s new immigration policy. This is especially true for Latinx communities.
INTELIGENCIA spoke to voting rights groups in the state to see how Florida’s growing Latinx community will able to participate in the fundamental US right of voting.
Administrative Barriers to Voting
The best way to predict how Florida will treat incoming minority voters is to judge how Florida has dealt with minority voters in the past.
Not only will Latinx have to face cuts to early voting on university and college campuses, but they will also likely deal with racially-targeted voting campaigns.
“Republicans assume minorities who register to vote are going to vote Democrat, so they’ll implement administrative action to discourage minorities from making it to the ballot box”, Michael Dobson, President of Our Florida Voters Campaign, told INTELIGENCIA.
“When African Americans organized ‘Souls to the Polls,’ which was an early voting initiative that occured after church services, Republicans responded by cutting Sunday voting, which dramatically decreased the black vote.”
Dobson also warned that outsider groups are targeting Puerto Ricans during their voter registration process, which is primarily taking place around Orlando and Orange County.
“You’ll see Republicans and outside influences investing time and money registering Puerto Ricans to vote. They’re not only doing this to help swing an influential district ‘red,’ but also to gain support for initiatives that are widely unpopular in minority communities”.
Dobson pointed to controversial subjects like charter schools, which can be won on just 5-8% of the minority vote.
Republicans, on the other hand, believe that newly -arriving Puerto Ricans are gravitating towards the Republican party.
“Many of the arriving Puerto Ricans are hardworking people who want to own their own business and to send their kids to college,” Committeeman Paul Paulson of Orange County’s Republican Party told Inteligencia. “Consequently, many of them are conservative and signing up for the Republican party, which should boost our vote total this November”.
Due to the racial disparity present among incarceration rates, newly-arrived Puerto Ricans, as well as Florida’s Latinx community in general, will have to face the state’s difficult process of restoring voting rights for previously convicted felons.
“For obvious reasons, this affects minorities and poor people much more than white, affluent people,” said Kitty Garber, Co-Founder and Research Director of Florida Fair Elections Coalition.
Florida is one of only three states (Iowa and Kentucky are the others) that still permanently disenfranchise the vote of people convicted of a felony, even if the felony was non-violent, took place decades ago, and that person has served all their time and made any required restitution.
This is just the first stage of a difficult process, according to Garber. She noted that Republican governor Rick Scott re-implemented the process of those seeking restored voting rights to petition the clemency board (composed of the Governor and two members of his cabinet) and appear personally before the board in Tallahassee.
“How many working class people can afford the time and money to jump over all the hurdles put up by the state? Also, because minority young people tend to be poorer than white young people, they are more likely to have a public defender who counsels them to plead guilty in exchange for no jail time.”
Another hurdle to voting is the ballot itself. Florida’s League of Women Voters President Patricia Brigham told Inteligencia that voters will face a ballot full of amendments that have received little public debate or discussion.
“We do not want voters to be dissuaded from voting due to the length of the ballot, and voters should fully understand these proposals before going to vote for them.”
Brigham also noted that Florida is a closed primary state, which bars individuals without a party affiliation from voting in the primaries. This coincides with accounts of the rise of ‘no party affiliation’ in the state.
Florida’s barriers to the vote are a psychological battle as much they are an administrative one. While the state’s expanding Latinx community will have to face these hurdles in the November elections, worsened by a toxic atmosphere about immigration put out by the Trump administration, the chance to make an impact is not impossible.
Words by Daniel Engelke
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