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Voting rights groups warn of problems in Florida

Voting rights groups warn of problems in Florida

Over 6 million Floridians have already either voted early in-person or by mail this election cycle, equating to over 45 percent of the state’s registered voters and almost 70 percent of the total number of votes cast in the state during the 2016 presidential election.

However, concerns remain that various forms of voter suppression could affect the outcome of what is expected to be a tight race in the uber-important battleground state with Election Day just a week away.  

Mone Holder, senior program director at New Florida Majority, noted that some of the issues were as simple as trying to educate Floridians on how to vote by mail, pointing to struggles in Duval County, which is home to Jacksonville, the state’s largest city.

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“We've had to put a great deal of pressure on [Supervisor of Elections] Mike Hogan to even send out a mailer to all registered voters letting them know what the vote by mail process is,” Holder said Tuesday during a virtual press briefing with other Florida voting right groups. “In a state like Florida with 67 different counties and 67 different Supervisor of Elections doing 67 different things, it’s a recipe for disaster.”

Holder and others on the call also blasted Hogan, a Republican, for removing early voting locations from Edward Waters College and the University of North Florida. Edward Waters College is located in a predominantly Black community. Holder alleged that Hogan refused to speak to New Florida Majority and other voting rights groups about the changes until it was too late to do anything about them.

“These voter suppression tactics highly impact black voters,” Holder said.

Hogan “has really risen to our attention as one of the bad actors in the state, and it’s unfortunate,” Brad Ashwell, Florida state director for All Voting is Local, added during the call, though he did note that Hogan had increased the number of mail-in ballot drop boxes, a positive.

Hogan’s office did not respond to a request for comment.

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Another concern for activists is the rejection of mail-in ballots that have already been sent in.

Roughly 35,000 mail-in ballots were rejected in Florida’s primary in August. Nearly two-thirds of those ballots were rejected because they were received past 7 p.m. on the day of the primary, while the others were rejected because they either lacked a signature or the signature couldn’t be verified. The rejected ballots counted for about 1.5 percent of the total ballots cast in the election, according to an analysis by Politico.

For example, in Miami-Dade County — the largest county in the state which 2016 Democratic nominee Hillary ClintonHillary Diane Rodham ClintonIntercept DC bureau chief says Biden picks are 'same people' from Obama years The Hill's 12:30 Report - Third vaccine candidate with 90% efficacy Biden won — so why did Trump's popularity hit its highest point ever? MORE won by roughly 30 points — 4,691 ballots arrived after Aug. 18, the date of the primary.

The Supreme Court on Monday night struck down Wisconsin Democrats’ request to have mail-in ballots be counted as long as they arrived within six days after Election Day. It’s all but certain that mail-in ballots that Florida receives after 7 p.m. on Election Day won’t be counted.

Holder said Floridians who have yet to mail their ballots in should deliver their ballots to drop boxes instead.

So far, of the nearly 4 million by-mail votes that have been returned in the state, 21,000 have been flagged as needing to be cured because of a signature problem.

On top of the votes that could potentially arrive too late, tens of thousands of felons in the state who were given the right to vote through an amendment to Florida’s constitution in 2018, won’t be able to cast ballots, thanks to Gov. Ron DeSantisRon DeSantisThe Hill's Morning Report - Presented by the UAE Embassy in Washington, DC - Trump, Biden clash over transition holdup, pandemic plans Group of Florida mayors calls on DeSantis to issue mask mandate DeSantis promises to keep Florida open despite recent coronavirus case surge MORE (R) and the state’s GOP-controlled legislature.

The law, known as Voting Restoration Amendment 4, was supported by over 60 percent of Floridians who voted on it and restored voting rights to most felons who had completed “all terms” of their sentences.

But in 2019, DeSantis signed a bill that forced felons to settle all outstanding court debt before their voting rights could be reinstated, even if they were financially incapable of settling their debt. The bill affected approximately 800,000 Floridians with a felony conviction who had completed the terms of their sentences. An estimated two-thirds of the affected would-be voters are Black.

Despite work from voting rights groups and fundraising efforts from billionaire Michael BloombergMichael BloombergBiden's great challenge: Build an economy for long-term prosperity and security The secret weapon in Biden's fight against climate change Sanders celebrates Biden-Harris victory: 'Thank God democracy won out' MORE (D), it’s expected that only a fraction of the felons that Amendment 4 restored voting rights to will actually cast a ballot on Election Day.

“This case is perhaps the most consequential when it comes to election outcomes,” Rick Hasen, a law professor at the University of California, Irvine, wrote earlier in the year on his Election Law Blog. “Florida is a perennial swing state and the number of voters affected by this ruling is significant.”

Polls have shown President TrumpDonald John TrumpMinnesota certifies Biden victory Trump tells allies he plans to pardon Michael Flynn: report Republican John James concedes in Michigan Senate race MORE and former Vice President Joe BidenJoe BidenMinnesota certifies Biden victory Trump tells allies he plans to pardon Michael Flynn: report Biden says staff has spoken with Fauci: 'He's been very, very helpful' MORE in a dead heat in the Sunshine State. Many election experts have said that a second term for Trump will be almost impossible unless he carries the state. Trump narrowly won Florida by just over 110,000 votes in 2016.