Press release

Voting Rights Advocates to FL Governor Ron DeSantis: Make Emergency Accommodations for Presidential Primary Election Due to COVID-19 Pandemic

Civil Rights Organizations Threaten Legal Action to Ensure All Voters Can Participate in FL Presidential Primary Election

TALLAHASSEE - Yesterday, a coalition of racial justice organizations filed a letter with Florida Governor Ron DeSantis and Secretary of State Laurel M. Lee, demanding immediate changes to the state’s upcoming Presidential Primary Election procedures in response to the COVID-19 pandemic. The letter, submitted by Dream Defenders, New Florida Majority, Organize Florida, Advancement Project National Office, and Demos requests accommodations for voters statewide and threatens legal action to protect the voting rights of those directly and indirectly impacted by Florida’s subsequent State of Emergency.

“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 joint letter recommends the Secretary of State immediately amend Florida’s 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.

“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.

“We are in uncharted territory. With the declaration of a state of emergency and the serious risks posed by COVID-19, many Floridians who had planned to vote in person will be unable to vote unless the state takes immediate action," said K. Sabeel Rahman, president of Demos. "Voters need accommodations for vote-by-mail and protective measures at the polls now.”

“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.”

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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.