Press release

Civil Rights Organizations File Lawsuit to Ensure Floridians Impacted by COVID-19 Can Participate in Presidential Primary Election

Florida's failure to extend vote-by-mail deadlines, adjust early voting dates, and expand mail ballot transmission options amounts to a denial of critical voter opportunities in violation of the Fourteenth Amendment.

TALLAHASSEE - Last night, a coalition of racial justice organizations filed a lawsuit in the U.S. District Court for the Northern District of Florida against Governor Ron DeSantis and Secretary of State Laurel M. Lee for refusing to make reasonable voting accommodations for Floridians impacted by COVID-19. In a motion submitted by Dream Defenders, New Florida Majority, Organize Florida, Advancement Project National Office, Demos, and LatinoJustice PRLDEF plaintiffs allege the state’s failure to extend vote-by-mail deadlines, adjust early voting dates, and expand mail ballot transmission options amounts to a denial of critical voter opportunities in violation of the Fourteenth Amendment. The state’s refusal to take reasonable emergency election measures will prevent Floridians from participating in Tuesday’s Presidential Primary elections.

“Florida’s Presidential Primary Election is tomorrow and unless immediate action is taken by the state, millions of voters could be disenfranchised,” said Rachel Gilmer, co-director of Dream Defenders. “Thousands of young people who anticipated voting on or near their college campuses were abruptly sent home last week and Florida’s leadership has disregarded them entirely. Other states with primaries on Tuesday have shown leadership we have yet to see from Florida. These students have now missed the deadline to request an absentee ballot and it is only fair that we provide them an opportunity to vote by mail. We must extend the vote by mail deadline until March 27 or we run the risk of massive voter suppression this primary.”

The complaint requests that Florida amend its vote-by-mail process by:

  • Extending the deadline for people to request a vote-by-mail ballot to March 27th;
  • Allowing voters to request ballots be sent to them via e-mail or fax consistent with military and overseas voter procedures;
  • Allowing third-party individuals to collect ballots from those utilizing vote-by-mail and drop off these ballots at the drop boxes mentioned above; and 
  • Allowing voters to submit their ballot via fax.

“It’s important for me to be able to mail my vote in because I need my voice to be heard this election,” said Terriayna Spillman, a plaintiff in the suit, and a freshman at Bethune Cookman University in Daytona Beach. “This would be my first time voting in a primary election and contributing to a political change. Not allowing students to mail in our ballots will drive down youth turnout. I hope the state of Florida will do the right thing by extending the mail-in deadline.”

Governor DeSantis’ refusal to make voter accommodations because Floridians “voted during the Civil War” further trivializes the severity of the COVID-19 pandemic. 

“Approximately 112 polling places have been moved or consolidated including many at assisted living facilities,” said Andrea Mercado, Executive Director of New Florida Majority. “We understand that these closures are to protect public health, but it will create confusion, make lines longer at existing locations and will force people to travel farther. Extending and expanding vote by mail is common sense.”

Racial justice groups also cited quarantine requirements of Floridians with COVID-19 and a reduction in the number of poll workers available for Election Day duties as major voting barriers. To ensure all voters are able to cast a ballot, the groups also demand the state;

  •  Contact all voters whose polling places have changed as a result of site relocations. Supervisors of Elections should also attempt to station a poll worker at each of the former voting sites to alert voters that the polling place has changed;
  • Permit voters to vote curbside with a paper ballot;
  •  Give poll workers discretion to permit voters from vulnerable populations (senior citizens, voters who are immunocompromised, etc.) to move to the front of the line of waiting voters; and
  •  Allow people utilizing vote-by-mail to submit their ballots at a variety of drop boxes, including drop boxes at polling sites that are not their precincts.

“As we face this pandemic, we must also safeguard our democracy and protect the right of Florida voters to cast a ballot. Our complaint today asks the federal court to order Governor Ron DeSantis and Secretary of State Laurel Lee to act swiftly and immediately,” said Chiraag Bains, Director of Legal Strategies at Demos. “They must extend vote-by-mail and make other critical accommodations to stop massive voter suppression, which will fall hardest on the state’s Black and brown voters and its vulnerable populations.”

“The state must move swiftly to protect Floridians’ health and right to vote,” said Judith Browne Dianis, Executive Director of Advancement Project National Office. “This is not business as usual. Floridians are entitled to have their voices heard this election, and it is imperative that the state provides voters with an array of options to cast their ballots.”

“Across the country, people are taking steps to mitigate the spread of the Coronavirus.  It is unconscionable that the state of Florida is not following newly issued guidelines for the safety of our community.  The Latinx community faces obstacles to the ballot including language access, changed polling locations as well as the economic crisis related to unprecedented closures of schools and business in light of the pandemic. If we aim to ensure that Latinxs can fully participate in the 2020 primary, then Florida must take steps to make sure that people don’t have to choose between their health and the vote. We call upon Florida to take the necessary action to make sure every vote counts,” said Kira Romero-Craft, Managing Attorney in the LatinoJustice PRLDEF’s Southeast Office.

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Advancement Project National Office is a next-generation, multi-racial civil rights organization. Rooted in the great human rights struggles for equality and justice, we exist to fulfill America’s promise of a caring, inclusive and just democracy. We use innovative tools and strategies to strengthen social movements and achieve high impact policy change. Visit www.advancementproject.org

Demos is a dynamic think-and-do tank that powers the movement for a just, inclusive, multiracial democracy. Through cutting-edge policy research, inspiring litigation, and deep relationships with grassroots organizations, Demos champions solutions that will create a democracy and economy rooted in racial equity. To learn more visit www.demos.org.

The New Florida Majority (NewFM) is an independent political organization working to increase the voting and political power of historically marginalized and excluded constituencies toward an inclusive, equitable, and just Florida. For more information on NewFM, please visit our Website at www.newfloridamajority.org

Dream Defenders is an organization of multiracial, young people in Florida founded in the wake of Trayvon Martin’s murder that are organizing towards a new vision for safety away from prisons. To learn more about us, please visit dreamdefenders.org.

LatinoJustice PRLDEF works to create a more just society by using and challenging the rule of law to secure transformative, equitable and accessible justice, by empowering our community and by fostering leadership through advocacy and education. For more than 40 years, LatinoJustice PRLDEF has acted as an advocate against injustices throughout New York and beyond. To learn more about LatinoJustice, visit www.latinojustice.org.