‘This is racism’: Black pastors decry proposed changes to Florida voting laws
Black clergy and civil rights leaders from across the state are joining together in Tallahassee to oppose a bill they view as the latest example in Florida’s long history of suppressing Black votes.
Senate Bill 90, proposed by Sen. Dennis Baxley, R-Lady Lake, aims to ban ballot drop boxes, limit who can handle someone else’s ballot to immediate family and require more-frequent requests for mail-in ballots.
Since it was introduced, the bill was called a “travesty” by Lake County’s Republican elections chief and decried by members of both parties. Still, Senate Republicans have pushed it through committee.
Pastor Marcus McCoy of Greater Refuge Memorial Church in Orlando this week called the bill “outright voter suppressive,” adding that the bill’s supporters are “trying to take us back to 1965.”
“We feel that this is voter suppression against African Americans — against communities of color — and we’re calling it out,” McCoy said, who is also the state faith outreach director for Equal Ground Education. “This is racism at its highest and clearest point.”
McCoy will join Bishop-elect Derrick McRae of The Experience Christian Center in Pine Hills and other clergy and civil rights organizations from across the state 10 a.m. Thursday in Tallahassee to speak out against the bill.
“It seems to be an intentional effort to undermine, to make a sector of individuals feel like their votes do not matter,” McRae said.
He noted that, in the past, Black voters were less likely to use mail-in ballots, but COVID-19 increased trust in that method of voting for many among the Black electorate. Baxley’s bill, he said, seemed to be a direct response to that.
“It seems like we’re definitely putting politics before people in order to get a certain outcome that one particular party is interested in achieving,” he said.
Republicans have traditionally been more likely to use mail-in voting options, but as the coronavirus pandemic prompted fears about standing in long lines to vote, the use of mail ballots by Democrats surged across the nation, helping clinch the presidency for Joe Biden delivering his party full control of Congress.
Black voters have “adapted to the system now,” McRae said. “Now you want to eliminate that? Now you want to erase those things?”
Baxley’s office did not respond to a request for comment on the racial implications of his bill but, earlier this month, he was asked what his motive was for introducing the bill and for a response to people who said it would lead to voter suppression.
“I don’t attribute motives to other people,” he told reporters March 10. “They may not like what we’re doing, they may think it’s wrong, but the attributing of motives and the assigning of motives to people — some days even I don’t know why I did something. That’s God’s work. I would appreciate some room on that.”
When asked for examples of fraud related to the use of drop boxes, he likened his bill to putting guardrails up on the highway so no one goes over the edge — a preventative measure to stop voter fraud and “improve election security” before it becomes an issue.
But despite all the claims that the election was stolen perpetuated by former President Donald Trump and his supporters, no widespread evidence of voter fraud was found in Florida or anywhere else in the nation in 2020. Excuse-free mail voting has been a fixture in Florida elections for years, only becoming a partisan issue after Trump began assailing the method.
According to Robert Cassanello, a history professor at University of Central Florida who has studied voting laws and racial voter suppression, specious claims of voter fraud have long been used to justify restricting access to voting.
“They always say that,” Cassanello said.
Even before the 1965 Voting Rights Act made it illegal to prevent someone from voting based on race, there was a social taboo against creating laws that explicitly used race to disenfranchise voters, he said. Instead, poll taxes, grandfather clauses and a threat of violence kept the Black electorate away from the polls.
In the modern political climate, claims of voter fraud, routinely made with little to no evidence, does the same work.
In 2018, Georgia’s Republican election officials claimed they were preventing fraud to justify purging thousand of people from its voter rolls as Stacey Abrams campaigned to be the state’s first Black governor.
In 2013, North Carolina’s Republican legislators pushed voter ID laws with the same justification.
In 2011, Florida’s then-Gov. Rick Scott used the same arguments to cut early voting days and outlaw voting on the last Sunday before Election Day, which was customarily when churches would gather their congregations to vote in mass during Souls to the Polls events.
In each case, court battles later revealed that, while race was not explicitly mentioned in the creation of these laws purporting to combat voter fraud and increase election safety, they disproportionately harmed Black voters.
Source: Orlando Sentinel