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Hispanic Officials: Voter Discrimination Is Alive In Florida

Jessica Palombo

Credit Jessica Palombo / WFSU News

Florida Hispanic elected officials are calling on the state’s congressional delegates to urge passage of a Voting Rights Act amendment. They are pushing for a fix after the U.S. Supreme Court last year struck down parts of the act meant to protect minority voters.  

After the Supreme Court decision, places with histories of racial discrimination, including five Florida counties, no longer must undergo federal vetting before they can change their voting laws. And without that protection, activists say, the state’s minority voters have less power to fight discrimination.

Erin Hustings is Senior Policy Analyst with the National Association of Latino Elected and Appointed Officials. She says in Florida over the past two presidential elections, the percent of Hispanic voters rose from 14.5 percent to more than 17 percent.

“Latinos and all voters in Florida need Voting Rights Act protections and remedies not only to ensure that we don’t lose the gains that we’ve made toward equality but also so that we redress voting discrimination that has occurred in recent years and is still occurring as we speak,” she says.

Hustings and others spoke to reporters via telephone Monday. Among them was Aventura City Commissioner Luz Urbaez Weinberg. She points to an Orlando Sentinel analysis finding as many as 200,000 Floridians attempted to vote during the 2012 election but left the polls because of long wait times.

“Voters who encountered long lines were disproportionately voters of color and, might I add, lower-income-family voters who, of course, simply cannot afford to spend an entire workday voting rather than earning much-needed money for their family,” she says.

She says she testified in a U.S. Senate Judiciary Committee Hearing last July in support of a proposed bill adding back some protections.

“That was nearly a year ago, and there’s been no House Judiciary Committee meeting on this critical VRA bill, whose very lack of existence endangers our most fundamental right as Americans, and that’s the right to vote,” Urbaez Weinberg says.

The proposed law would resurrect federal vetting for states with at least three voting rights act violations in the past 15 years. Florida is not among those. But the amendment confirms the federal government can still send monitors to historically discriminatory places. And it also would make it easier for plaintiffs to get a judge to block a potentially discriminatory law while deciding.

Copyright 2014 WFSU

Jessica Palombo supervises local news gathering and production, podcasts and web editorial content for WJCT News, ADAPT and Jacksonville Today. She is an award-winning writer and journalist with bylines including NPR, Experience Magazine, and The Gainesville Sun. She has a master’s degree in broadcast and digital journalism from Syracuse University and is an alumna of the University of Florida. A nearly lifelong resident of Jacksonville, she considers herself lucky to be raising her own children in her hometown. Follow Jessica Palombo on Twitter: @JaxJessicaP