While Former Florida GOP leaders say voter suppression was the reason they pushed new election law, members of Florida’s Democratic Congressional delegation have written to the U.S. Commission on Civil Rights requesting that it convene a hearing to investigate Florida’s 2011 electoral law, HB 1355, after former Republican state leaders and GOP consultants said the law was expressly designed to reduce Democratic voter participation:
The commission, which has subpoena powers, is charged with investigating violations of civil rights.
The request follows two stories in The Palm Beach Post, published Oct. 26 and Nov. 25, about the involvement of GOP staff and consultants in writing HB 1355, which reduced early voting days and proscribed the activities of voter registration organizations, such as the League of Women Voters. The bill was passed by the GOP-controlled legislature and signed into law by Gov. Rick Scott, a Republican, in May 2011.
Former state Republican Party chairman Jim Greer told The Post that while the party claimed the law was designed to stop voter fraud and save money, the true intent was to stem early voting, which GOP staffers and consultants believed favored Democrats. The law reduced early voting from 14 days to 8.
Greer is under indictment for allegedly stealing money from the party through what has been called a phony fund raising firm. He has counter sued the party, asserting that party leaders knew what he was doing. His trial is pending.
Former Republican Gov. Charlie Crist, also no longer in the party —and reportedly considering a run for governor in 2014 as a Democrat— backed Greer’s claims that the law was designed to reduce Democratic turnout. A Republican consultant, who asked not to be identified, also said Republicans wanted to eliminate early voting on the last Sunday before an election because that day was particularly popular with black voters, and most of them have backed Democrats.
The letter to the Civil Rights Commission was signed by Democratic party U.S. Reps. Alcee Hastings of Miramar; Debbie Wasserman Schultz of Weston; Corrine Brown of Jacksonville; Kathy Castor of Tampa; Ted Deutch of Boca Raton; and Frederica Wilson of Miami. It was addressed to Martin Castro, chairman of the Civil Rights Commission.
The group hopes to shine a light on the errors made that caused so many problems for voters at the polls. In many cases the voter suppression tactics backfired on the Republicans when so many refused to leave the long lines even when the election had already been called. Many remained in line until they voted.
Castor agreed. She also said she thought it was clear that HB 1355 was intended to inhibit Democratic voting.
“But this has taken a darker turn,” she said, “The racial undertones are very troubling. We need to learn more about how coordinated this was.”
Florida House Democratic Leader Perry Thurston, of Fort Lauderdale, also called for a federal probe. He said Democratic lawmakers questioned the purpose of HB 1355 all along “because in our opinion no (voter) fraud was ever brought to light.”
In his interview with The Post Greer said f0llowing the 2008 victory of President Barack Obama, GOP staffers and consultants began to discuss ways to inhibit the Democratic vote.
“The Republican Party, the strategists, the consultants, they firmly believe that early voting is bad for Republican Party candidates,” Greer told The Post. “They never came in to see me and tell me we had a (voter) fraud issue. It’s all a marketing ploy.”
Mitchell, in a deposition taken in a lawsuit brought against the state over HB 1355, also spoke of meetings starting in 2010 at which new electoral laws were discussed. Mitchell’s name has been connected to charges of alleged voter suppression in the past.
Following the 2000 election, the Civil Rights Commission held hearings in Florida after the Florida Division of Elections issued lists of persons who were allegedly felons and who should not be allowed to vote. Supervisors of elections later found that many of the persons on the list were not felons. The employees of database companies hired by the state to compile the lists later testified that it was Mitchell who had set the parameters for the list. Mitchell was not called to testify.
Tuesday, State Sen. John Thrasher, R-St. Augustine, who served for a year as chairman of the Republican Party of Florida after Greer stepped down in January 2010, said he believes a Civil Rights Commission hearing is unnecessary.
Thrasher also said he does not believe Greer and Crist are credible.
Crist is “mad at the Republican Party,” Thrasher said. He said Crist’s anger comes from being beaten by Marco Rubio in the GOP U.S. Senate primary in 2010 and subsequently running as an independent and losing to Rubio again.
And Greer is facing criminal fraud charges stemming from his tenure as party chairman, Thrasher said.
“I’m not going to give a lot of credibility to anything either one of them say,” Thrasher said. “You can take evidence from just about anybody and there’s a lot of second-guessing afterwards and a lot of people now who have an axe to grind and want to grind it. But where is the evidence that shows anything like that, that any senator voted for anything they thought was going to suppress turnout? I don’t think you’ll find any senator who will say that because it’s not accurate.”