Dozens Converge on Downtown Tampa to Resist Voter Suppression

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By Ryan Ray

As our Capitol slowly devolves into an open-air slaughterhouse for good ideas and majoritarian rule, lousy with graft and openly hostile to the public trust like no time since the regime of the Pork Choppers, a loose-knit group of lefties the state over is standing athwart Florida history yelling “Enough already!” In 23 cities and towns earlier tonight, including at historic Lykes Gaslight Park in Tampa, activists marched, local electeds spoke and a general solidarity was felt at a series of rallies organized by progressive policy advocacy group Awake the State.

“We cannot forget what the Legislature did to us last year — and how well it worked,” inveighed Sierra Club regional director Phil Compton in referring to HB1355, which along with Governor Scott’s dragnet effort to purge the voter rolls of illegal immigrants, represented a brazen attempt to keep likely Democratic voters at home on Election Day. A crowd of around 200 also heard a short talk by Hillsborough County Supervisor of Elections Craig Latimer (his own mire somewhat scandalized relating to some possibly coerced campaign contributions), the rather lettered analysis of Central Florida ACLU head Dr. Joyce Hamilton Henry and a joyous, time limit-surpassing salvo from Rev. Charles McKenzie, who drew sharp parallels between the conservative antagonists of the struggle for Civil Rights and today’s Florida G.O.P. legislators:

“There was no democracy in the South until 1965,” McKenzie reminded the assembled, “and we aren’t going to let Rick Scott undermine it an inch more than he already has. We aren’t going to stop at just reversing these voter suppression bills: we won’t stop until every historically disadvantaged group has full access to the vote and to the polls.”

Among the issues addressed explicitly during the rally:

  • same-day registration and opening up the primaries,
  • the need for granting greater flexibility to local Supervisors of Elections, so that small counties do not go broke while providing access to Early Voting, while sites in big counties are allowed to stay open the entire two weeks before E-Day,
  • reinstatement of voting rights for felons, which typically takes at least five years,
  • the current judicial assault from the Right on key points of the Voting Rights Act, as well as its allies in our current Attorney General’s office,
  • the statutory loophole which holds the descriptions of citizen-generated ballot initiatives to 75 words while allowing amendments from the Legislature to run for several paragraphs, and
  • the general urgency of the situation in Tallahassee, which is perilously close to a one-party system even after Democratic gains in 2012.

Veteran Tampa activist Tim Heberlein says the event was a major success for Awake the State, an entity founded only in 2011 that despite a lack of wealthy donors or a formal membership structure, managed to get thousands of voters from Pensacola to Miami to get together to talk substantively about why and how Floridians need to demand electoral reform during this legislative session, which commenced Monday. The secret, he told me, was collaboration: the local chapter of the International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers procured the event permit from the City, for instance; groups like his Florida Consumer Action Network recruited marchers and volunteers; and CAIR, the notorious Council on American-Islamic Relations, distributed bottles of water to the thirsty. All told about a dozen organizations pitched in to plan the Tampa event.

Although if asked about Awake’s political identity its leaders will say they are bipartisan, there was no mistaking the decidedly liberal spirit to the atmosphere tonight. An organized, statewide, left-leaning group that is actually uniting people around political reform on a county-by-county basis? A healthy sign ahead of 2014 to be sure.

Ryan Ray is new contributor to the Florida Squeeze. This is his first piece for the site.

7 comments

  1. Maybe they should protest the Florida Democratic Party as they have proven to be better at manipulating elections and manufacturing votes than anyone in Florida.

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    1. Rumor is Alan Clendenin actually won the FDP election but that a number of proxy votes were forged. Great article and I strongly support the Awake the State concept but the Democrats in Florida are blatant hypocrites. Kartik calls the RPOF hypocrites for the civility project what about the Democrats on election reform? As big if not bigger hypocrites!

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  2. Great job to all these activists! They are doing this OUTSIDE the inept Democrats.

    The party I agree is a joke. Not only proxy votes but couldn’t even count votes properly.

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  3. […] morning Ryan Ray’s excellent article highlighted the frustration Floridians have with the current legislature which as he correctly […]

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  4. The party is a joke. They with the Republicans (Same party in South, Broward and Miami Dade) fudge all votes even with DEC campaigns. They are a joke as the elected officials then send a campaign pledge ask on this stupid shit.

    I vote for neither party and say vote ALL the bums out. NO INCUMBANTS!

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  5. We attended this Rally and found it excellent!

    We are a member of a new Grass Roots Open Primary Campaign in Florida, called Florida Independent Voting.Org (FIVOrg.Com – in affiliation with the national IndependentVoting.Org out of NY). This is a national campaign among Independents calling on Congress to hold hearings to examine ways in which partisanship is so hardwired into the political system, as to have created structural discrimination against independents; namely that 40% of Americans have a second class status.

    Florida and eighteen other states have Closed Primary elections where only members of a political party may vote in their Party’s primary. The taxpayers including the Independent Party, or those with No Party Affiliation (NPA), finance these primaries with taxpayer dollars. That means that 40% of the voters that are Independent (NPA) become disenfranchised in primary elections. Yet they still have their taxes used to finance the elections of the Party that they have no say in which candidate should be selected/elected.

    The purpose of our campaign:

    1) To call for the enactment of Nonpartisan Open Primaries in Florida, commonly called Top Two. It’s time to put the power in the hands of the voters, not the Political Parties. Under Top Two Open Primaries, all candidates for an office appear on one Primary Ballot, and voters can choose the best candidate for each office, regardless of Party Affiliation. The TOP TWO vote getters go on to the General Election

    2) To educate Congress and shine a light on the effect of partisan control of the election process.

    3) To urge Congress to investigate these biases by holding hearings.

    Recent polls show the number of Americans identifying as independents has surpassed that of Democrat or Republican. This disconnect-between the growing independence of the citizenry and the highly partisan nature of our governing process-is creating an unhealthy situation for our democracy.

    Indeed, many have noted that the past budget/debt negotiations and resulting congressional approval ratings of less than 10%, are so driven by partisan considerations as to put the country at risk. They urge that structural reforms are urgently needed in order that we may find genuine solutions to the problems we face.

    We support Top Two Open Primaries as an important step towards transforming our political process and moving forward as a State and as a Nation. Please go to FIVOrg.Com for more details about this important Petition and it’s signing on-line.

    Duane E. Pike (813-968-8378)
    Florida Independent Voting.org

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