ORLANDO — Targeting a state election that a lot of civil rights activists claimed was aimed at surpressing turnout among minorities, the Florida Civil Rights Association is asking the federal government to launch an investigation into how the state of Florida conducted the presidential election last month.
And the federal government appears to be listening.
On Thursday, the association based in Orlando announced that the U.S. Department of Justice has contacted the organization about the federal complaint filed with U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder last month. It calls for a federal investigation into November’s presidential Election in the Sunshine State, which activists called a “debacle that unfairly targets African Americans and Hispanics for discrimination.”
The complaint filed with the Justice Department, said the association’s president, J. Willie David III, addresses claims of voter suppression efforts against blacks and Hispanics.
“We are pleased that the Justice Department showed interest in our federal election complaint filed against the State of Florida,” said David. “Florida’s election problem is systemic. It is not isolated, and it should be aggressively pursued by federal officials.”
The association has complained about efforts by the Florida Legislature, which is controlled by Republicans, to make it harder for voters in minority communities to get to the polls. Among the association’s cimplaints are that state lawmakers made it for difficult for grass roots groups that register new voters in minority neighborhoods to operate in the state, and they also reduced the number of early voting days from two weeks to one. Those efforts were heavily critized by state civil rights associations, and David said these efforts made Florida “the voter suppression capital of America for its relentless and discriminatory attacks on African Americans and Hispanics voting rights.”
President Obama was re-elected last November to a second, and he narrowly carried Florida thanks to a strong turnout by African American and Latino voters in his favor.
Despite that, the Florida Civil Rights Association says a concerted effort had been made in the months leading up to the election to discourage a strong minority turnout.
The federal complaint alleges that Florida failed to provide adequate polling locations for early voting and on Election Day, Gov. Rick Scott refused to issue an emergency order to extend early voting hours in south Florida, where long lines of voters were waiting to cast ballots after the polls had closed at 7 p.m.
Florida’s election laws are a “pathway to racially profile voters,” David said, and “creates barriers at the polls to discourage people from voting,” which merits a federal investigation.
Since the filing of the federal complaint, David said the association has been gathering complaints in numerous counties that not every polling place “is created equally, especially for African Americans and Hispanics. Reports of unequal polling locations across Florida is certainly the type of information the Florida Civil Rights Association would like to see the U.S. Department of Justice investigate.”
The association just widened its voting rights investigation to cover Orange and Osceola counties, David said, adding “Our investigation will also focus on the closing of a Winter Park precinct due to an alleged bomb threat.”
On election day, the Winter Park Library experienced a bomb threat. The Winter Park Police Department ended up detonating two suspicious packages near the library. Although no one was hurt, it created frustration for voters waiting in line for hours.
President Obama carried Orange County with 59 percent of the vote.
Although Republican presidential nominee Mitt Romney led in the polls in Florida after the first presidential debate, President Obama ended by carrying Florida by a razor-thin margin — a victory credited in part to a very high turnout among black and Latino voters in urban counties like Orange, Hillsborough and Miami-Dade.
David said the association was citing possible violations in the U.S. Voting Rights Act, which “empowers the U.S. Department of Justice to combat disenfranchisement and vote suppression, and that authority should be used to fight the Florida election crisis,” he said. “It’s time for the Justice Department to deploy federal officials to these hotbed counties with a history of unequal polling locations that discriminate against African Americans and Hispanics.”
Attorney Kyan Ware, the organization’s spokesman and legal affairs chairman, will head-up this investigation with officials at the U.S. Department of Justice.
The Florida Civil Rights Association is a non-profit, non-partisan, statewide organization aimed at protecting and expanding civil rights and civil liberties. For more information, visit www.fcranews.com.
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