Press release

Racial Justice Groups Take Legal Action Against FL Governor Ron DeSantis Demanding Changes to Upcoming Elections Due to COVID-19 Pandemic

“The collective trauma of this pandemic is exposing the sheer depth of inequality in this country and the consequences that has always presented for Black and brown communities. We hope that Florida election officials will stand on the right side of history..."

TALLAHASSEE - Today, a coalition of racial justice organizations renewed legal action against Florida Governor Ron DeSantis and Secretary of State Laurel M. Lee, demanding emergency accommodations to the state’s election procedures in response to the COVID-19 pandemic. The updated complaint, filed by Dream Defenders, New Florida Majority, Organize Florida, Advancement Project National Office, Demos and LatinoJustice PRLDEF demands the state implement measures to make voting easier and safer for voters ahead of Florida’s August and November elections.

“We’ve seen story after story about Florida’s failures during this pandemic almost daily. Governor DeSantis is not a politician who will do the right thing willingly, so we’re trying to force him to in court,” said Rachel Gilmer, Co-director of the Dream Defenders. “DeSantis’ disregard of COVID-19 ahead of our presidential primary put Floridians lives at risk and we’re trying to prevent that same risk during our August and November elections by making sure all Florida voters have the option to vote from the safety of their homes.”

The latest legal action represents a renewed call by voting rights advocates to ensure the coronavirus pandemic does not disenfranchise people of color, the disabled, those needing language assistance, and the elderly. In an amended complaint, organizers and advocates seek to ease the burdens that all voters are likely to encounter as they try to navigate voter registration and elections in a COVID-19 environment. Current state election plans risk disproportionately disenfranchising thousands of Floridians.

The coalition is calling on the Secretary of State to:

  • Conduct outreach to unregistered and inactive voters offering the opportunity to register to vote or update their registrations
  • Mail a vote-by-mail ballot to all registered voters in accordance with their preferred language
  • Extend the deadline to register to vote
  • Simplify the Online Voter Registration process by modifying requirements and providing registrants with notice of application errors
  • Extend the deadline to return a vote-by-mail ballot
  • Expand the use of drop boxes for vote-by-mail ballots
  • Extend the time period to cure issues with vote-by-mail ballots
  • Expand the days, hours, and locations for early voting in each county
  • Provide voters with disabilities with accommodations that will enable them to privately cast a ballot
  • Clear communication to voters regarding registration options, the vote-by-mail process, and in-person voting logistics, including polling place closures and drop box locations

 “Governor Ron DeSantis needs to show Floridians that he cares about our lives and our democracy. This is not a matter of Republican or Democrat, this is a matter of life or death. He failed to respond adequately during the presidential primaries and many people were unnecessarily exposed to now confirmed cases of poll workers with COVID-19, including me and my family,” said Andrea Mercado, Executive Director of the New Florida Majority. “If he doesn’t act, not only will hundreds of thousands of Floridians be denied their right to vote, but many more will unnecessarily get sick and potentially die due to his irresponsibility.”

The amended complaint comes after Judge Robert Hinkle denied a previous motion requesting emergency voting accommodations in a lawsuit filed by the coalition ahead of the state’s Presidential Primary elections in March. Hinkle recognized the seriousness of the coronavirus crisis and left open the possibility of appropriate post-election measures.

Advocates are still seeking relief due to the state’s failure to implement measures that would ensure that voters who need language access assistance or assistance based on a disability are able to cast a ballot in Florida’s August and November elections. The coalition also cites the lack of accommodations for elderly and transient voters, as well as voters of color lacking access to technology, postage or state-issued identification, as reasons for their continued legal and advocacy efforts. 

“Florida experienced the consequences of not making emergency voter accommodations during the March primary,” said Judith Browne Dianis, Executive Director of Advancement Project National Office. “The state has an obligation to ensure voting this summer and in November is safe and easy. If Florida does not immediately begin implementing measures that make it easier for folks to vote early and by mail, it will be Black and Brown communities that suffer.”

“The collective trauma of this pandemic is exposing the sheer depth of inequality in this country and the consequences that has always presented for Black and brown communities,” said Stuart Naifeh, Senior Counsel at Demos. “We hope that Florida election officials will stand on the right side of history by not further denying their hardest hit constituents a voice in our collective future.”

“COVID-19 is forcing us to address long-standing disparities impacting people’s ability to vote and participate in the 2020 Election and beyond. It is imperative to address these obstacles and offer solutions so all members of our community, including vulnerable seniors, individuals experiencing homelessness, communities of color and limited English proficient voters, have their voices heard in our democracy,” said Kira Romero-Craft, Managing Attorney for 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 information about LatinoJustice, visit www.latinojustice.org.