The Fight to Vote

More than a few adjectives have been used to describe Florida’s new election laws: draconian, repressive, backwards and racist.  Sabu Williams had a few more to add to that list.

“Oh, absolutely crazy—horrible,” Williams said. “They’re atrocious and unnecessary.”

As president of the Okaloosa branch of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People, he’s a bit worried. The state’s new election laws, he worries, could have a negative impact on minority voters.

“If they make the hurdle so high,” Williams explained, “people just say, ‘to heck with it, I won’t jump the hurdle.’”

Passed last year, HB 1355 requires third parties to turn in voter registration forms within 48 hours, limits early voting and makes it difficult for voters to change addresses on the day they vote.

Williams has already run into trouble. The Martin Luther King, Jr. holiday threw him a curve ball and he ended up being fined for turning in registration forms late when he went to the elections office on Tuesday when they reopened.

“We were charged for being late an hour,” sighed Williams.

As per the new rules, third party registrars may be fined $50 for each form they turn in late. Due to this, mainstay voter registration groups like the League of Women Voters and Rock the Vote have said they are  pulling out of Florida.

The NAACP has no plans say that.

“We can’t afford to say that,” Williams said, adding that registering new voters was too important to stop in the face of punitive laws.

Florida’s legislature passed the new laws as a tool to deal with voter fraud. Groups challenging the laws aren’t buying it.

“Oh, please,” laughed Williams. “There was more voter fraud in the caucus in Iowa than there was in the state of Florida.”

The U.S. Attorney General has questioned the constitutionality of Florida’s new laws. Federal lawmakers will hold a subcommittee hearing on the matter this week in Tampa. Williams is holding out hope.

“I believe Florida’s laws have a serious chance of being overturned,” he said.