U.S. Congressional Subcommittee Investigates Voter Suppression In Florida After Midterm Debacle
Leaders from civil and voters' rights groups in Florida testified before members of Congress Monday in Fort Lauderdale about the barriers that minority groups face when voting in the state.
The Subcommittee on Elections of the U.S. House held the hearing inside the Broward County Commission chambers to evaluate whether claims of voter suppression need federal action.
The "testimony will help as Congress seeks to understand what needs to be done to safeguard every Americans' right to freely access the ballot," said Rep. Marcia Fudge of Ohio, the chair of the subcommittee.
In Broward County, issues with mail-in ballots during the 2018 Midterm Elections sparked protests during statewide recounts. Contested provisional ballots were not counted because of claims that signatures didn't match signatures used during voter registration.
Now, members of Congress want to know more about Florida's signature matching laws, claims of unbalanced and unfair purging of voter rolls and the accessibility of information in multiple languages.
"If there is evidence of clear, intentional widespread voter discrimination - Congress should take steps to remedy that in a bipartisan manner," Georgia Rep. Barry Loudermilk said.
Loudermilk said he did not believe the committee had found any intentional voter suppression, so far.
On Monday, members from the voting and advocacy groups Mi Familia Vota, the League of Women Voters and Family Action Network Movement came to testify to the contrary. They said they've experienced and seen processes in Florida's voting system that equate to voter suppression.
"I'm here to uplift the voices of those people that have been suppressed," said Nancy Batista, state director for Mi Familia Vota, a civic engagement organization that works to increase Latino and immigrant voter registration. "I just want to make sure that our voices are heard."
Much of the questioning during the congressional hearing focused on the implementation of Florida's Amendment 4. The constitutional amendment passed in 2018 restored voting rights to people with prior felony convictions, except murder or sex crime convictions. Last week, the state legislature passed a bill requiring that former felons pay all fines and fees before being able to vote.
"I have some concerns about what your state legislature is now attempting to do," Representative G.K. Butterfield from North Carolina told the panel of witnesses. "That is to require individuals who have previous convictions of felonies to pay restitution and fines and fees before being allowed to exercise the franchise."
Former Florida candidate for governor, Andrew Gillum, represented his political committee Forward Florida. He told members of Congress Monday that he doesn't think the legislature's rules are legal since fees were not written into the ballot language.
"It equates very much so to a poll tax," Gillum said.
The subcommittee has held voting rights hearings and listening sessions in seven states across the country, including Texas, North Carolina, North Dakota, Ohio, Georgia and Florida. Next week the subcommittee will gather testimonies about the elections processes in Alabama.
Copyright 2020 WLRN 91.3 FM. To see more, visit WLRN 91.3 FM.