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Florida Advocates Expand Access to Voter Registration and Vote-by-Mail, Expand Voter Education through Settlement of COVID-19 Elections Case

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FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE
July 20, 2020

CONTACT
Jeralyn Cave, [email protected]
Shanae Bass, Demos, [email protected]
Elianne Ramos, LatinoJustice PRLDEF, [email protected] 

Florida Advocates Expand Access to Voter Registration and Vote-by-Mail, Expand Voter Education through Settlement of COVID-19 Elections Case

Racial Justice Organizations Settle in Dream Defenders v. Ron DeSantis.Groups Vow to Continue Voting Rights Advocacy with Florida Supervisors of Elections

TALLAHASSEE, Fla. - Today, voting rights advocates held a press conference delineating the details of a major legal settlement with the state of Florida that calls on the state to make voting more accessible amidst the coronavirus pandemic. The case against the state of Florida to ensure free, fair and safe elections was filed in March 2020 prior to the Presidential Preference Primary  by Advancement Project National Office, Demos, and LatinoJustice PRLDEF on behalf of Dream Defenders, New Florida Majority, and Organize Florida. The terms of settlement will increase access to voter registration, require the state to inform citizens of their options in casting a vote-by-mail ballot, encourage Supervisors of Elections (SOEs) to use funding options to provide  prepaid postage for mail-in ballots, and require the Secretary of State to develop and execute a public relations campaign to inform voters of their options in casting a ballot, especially among communities of color, college-aged voters and seniors. 

“Rumors circulated last night about this settlement, especially in partisan circles. Make no mistake. This settlement is a clear victory and step forward for Black and Latinx voters,” said Gilda Daniels, Litigation Director for Advancement Project National Office.  “Dream Defenders v. Ron DeSantis shows how broken the Florida election system is, and what needs to be done to ensure that every Floridian can vote in August and November. In settling this case, Florida has finally done one thing right during the COVID crisis.  While the settlement is a step forward and many improvements to the system will result,  the fight to vote for the right to vote continues.”

The settlement agreement requires:

  • The Secretary of State to contact eligible, but unregistered Floridians with an Electronic Registration Information Center (ERIC) postcard, inviting them to register to vote and informing them of the available methods of voting in Florida.
  • The Secretary of State to launch a social media or public relation campaign to inform voters of the three ways they can vote (early voting, vote-by-mail, or in-person on Election Day).  The Secretary must make efforts to promote these options to college-age voters, communities of color, and seniors.
  • The Secretary of State host at least one workshop with Supervisors of Elections encouraging them to maximize the use of dropboxes for vote-by-mail ballots, maximize the use of early voting days available to them by law, and educate SOEs on the use of adaptive technology like OmniBallot ahead of the August 2020 primary.
  • The Secretary of State to develop a 1-page document for Supervisors of Elections in counties with no pre-paid postage for vote-by-mail ballots, informing voters of their delivery options.

“We brought this lawsuit because we were, and continue to be, the closest to the problems facing everyday voters in Florida’s communities of color,” said Andrea Mercado, Executive Director of New Florida Majority.  “With this settlement, Florida has committed to educating and encouraging all 67 Supervisors of Elections to expand access to democracy in this historic 2020 presidential election cycle. This settlement is another step forward in the fight to secure free and safe elections for communities of color in Florida.”

“We will continue to bring voting problems to light. We will fight to make sure this settlement is fully implemented,” said Stephanie Porta, Executive Director of Organize Florida. “This settlement builds upon and strengthens our advocacy and organizing work across the State to defend each Floridian’s fundamental right to vote in 2020 and beyond.”

“We are encouraged to work with the state and the various parties in advance of the primary and general elections so that Florida gets it right,” said Kira Romero-Craft, Managing Attorney, SouthEast at LatinoJustice PRLDEF. “We are committed to continuing to work with our community to insure that voters are aware of their options to vote safely and to understand how to make sure their vote is counted.”  

“The Constitution and federal law require that Florida provide safe and accessible opportunities to vote during the COVID-19 pandemic that is currently ravaging Florida,” said Jeffrey Miller, Partner at Arnold & Porter.  “The settlement obligates the state to work with all of Florida’s counties to ensure that all voters -- and particularly voters who are most vulnerable during this pandemic -- are able to register and vote in the manner of their choosing, whether in-person or by mail; and to ensure that every vote is counted, even under the unique challenges of this pandemic. Arnold & Porter was proud to represent the plaintiffs in this important case.” 

“When we filed this lawsuit in March, Florida had 149 coronavirus cases and 4 deaths. Today it’s up to 350,000 cases and over 5,000 deaths, and Florida is an epicenter of the worsening pandemic,” said Stuart Naifeh senior counsel at Demos. “The agreement we reached with the State in this case will protect Black and brown voters and all Floridians, ensuring they have multiple safe voting options and can be heard this November.”

“We filed this lawsuit in March because the state of Florida had not done enough to protect voters or their rights in the beginning of this pandemic,” said Rachel Gilmer, co-Director of the Dream Defenders. “This settlement ensures our state government will make important efforts to educate voters and make sure all eligible Floridians know what their voting options are. We look forward to working with people across the state in August and November to be able to vote safely.”

“This settlement will help assure that all Floridians can vote safely during the pandemic,” said John Ulin, of TroyGould P.C. in Los Angeles, “We know that millions of Florida voters will vote by mail or vote early for the first time this year, so they can avoid the health risks of crowded polling places and long lines.  Under the settlement, the State will work with supervisors of elections to make sure people know their options and are able to cast their ballots safely and knowing they will be counted. That’s a big victory for democracy in Florida.”

Listen to a recording of the press conference here (password: 3*z?PP?k). 

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

Organize Florida is a community-based, nonprofit member organization of low and moderate-income people dedicated to the principles of social, racial, and economic justice and the promotion of an equal and fair Florida for all.

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.

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