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Florida voters win some victories against attack on rights – Orlando Sentinel

Voting is the fundamental right of American democracy – one that should not only be exercised legally, but freely and joyfully. But over the decades, Florida's leaders have looked for ways to shorten the path to the ballot box, raising the specter of harsh punishment for those accused of skirting countless rules when voting or assisting others in voting .

Many Floridians believe the dark days of voter suppression are over. But Jim Crow-era tactics are resilient: They keep creeping back, cloaked in the new garb of “election security,” but clearly with the intent of getting people to vote — or even make them not vote to be able to.

Last week saw progress in the fight against two of these modern threats. The most promising but nebulous victory is a promise by the state to develop clear guidelines for ex-felons seeking to restore their right to vote, a promise that stalled a lawsuit in Miami. Meanwhile, a North Florida judge has permanently suspended a 2023 law that bans noncitizens from helping qualified voters register, sign petitions and cast ballots.

Both are positive developments that benefit people who would like to take part in our democracy.

Regain personality

When Florida voters approved a constitutional amendment in 2018 that gave voting rights back to people with felony convictions, many thought the uphill battle for redress was over. But after years of obstruction and downright dirty tricks by Gov. Ron DeSantis and the state legislature, Florida Rights Restoration was forced to file suit last year.

The main complaint: Florida officials have ruled that many “returning citizens” cannot vote unless they can prove they have cleared several hurdles — including paying all outstanding fees and getting refunds. But there is no easy way for potential voters to ensure all conditions are met — even though the state has had more than five years to organize and provide this information. Instead, DeSantis committed the performative nonsense of creating a special election police force and arresting a handful of voters on charges that they registered to vote even though they were ineligible to vote.

Last week, the state agreed to find a way to make that information available. The State Department, which oversees the election, will hold a workshop on June 11 to discuss ways for ex-offenders to obtain “expert opinions” on their eligibility to vote. In return, the Florida Rights Restoration Coalition agreed to drop the pending lawsuit. It's a bold vote of confidence in a state where justice has been so long in coming – and the state should respond by declaring that it will not prosecute ex-offenders because they have petitioned to have their rights restored , before these rules are developed. This measure will allow ex-felons to vote without fear in 2024.

Protect helping hands

Meanwhile, a federal judge in North Florida has delivered the final blow to a discriminatory 2023 state law that bars noncitizens from collecting or processing voter registration forms, threatening any group that uses them with fines of up to $50,000. Dollar.

These non-citizens are of course prohibited from voting for themselves. However, they should have the right to participate in voter registration campaigns, especially since many long-term residents have strong ties to their communities and would be effective ambassadors for those who are eligible to vote. U.S. District Judge Mark Walker made the right decision.

Fight for your rights

Meanwhile, all eligible voters must ensure they are prepared to vote in the 2024 election cycle, which includes a primary in August and a general election in November. (This includes updating any address or party affiliation changes that affect which primary elections voters attend).

However, the most important task lies with those who expect to vote by post – they should be aware that due to a change in the law in 2022, all applications for postal votes have now expired. Renewing this application through the local elections office will ensure that these voters can cast their vote conveniently and safely.

These provisions are just the tip of the iceberg. Lawmakers have also placed restrictions on ballot drop-offs; tightened rules and increased fines for many other voter participation activities; and even discussed measures that would stifle ballot questions from citizen initiatives — such as the Restoration of Rights Amendment.

By now, many readers may be wondering: Why has the legislature passed so many laws that restrict the rights of Floridians and make some afraid to vote? That's a good question for the state legislators responsible for these draconian new laws – especially those who themselves will be on the November ballot.

The Orlando Sentinel editorial team includes opinion editor Krys Fluker, managing editor Julie Anderson and Viewpoints editor Jay Reddick. Contact us at insight@orlandosentinel.com

Anna Harden

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