January 6, 2021 and its aftermath taught us something about this nation that is hard to fathom: There is a growing group of people who see elections as a threat to democracy.
And no, we’re not talking about the ridiculous claims that election officials are tampering with ballots. Still, these lies—starting with the Big Lie that Donald Trump was somehow rigged to win an election he lost by 3 million popular votes and the electoral college—should be considered part of a campaign to dissuade people who might otherwise vote . .
Fend them off. Fool them. Harass them. Scare them. Block them. Pick your anti-voter poison. It’s all happening. Florida may not see the crazy extremes of other states, such as the armed and apparently intimidating people who “guard” the ballot boxes in Arizona.
But paranoia is on the rise. Many Florida election officials have seen an increase in the number of people wanting to watch ballots being verified — and under a 2021 state law, they have expanded rights to inspect and challenge ballots. Prior to the passage of SB 90, those poll watchers could only do so when a contested ballot was submitted to a contested county committee. Why did GOP lawmakers want to allow partisans to be more deeply involved in the vote-counting process? Why did Gov. Ron DeSantis and then-Secretary of State Laurel Lee allow several meetings with DefendFlorida, a group that claims to be nonpartisan but refers to extremist groups on its website — and that claims it has evidence of thousands of voting “irregularities”? from the 2020 election. Their proposed remedy? Kill the two most popular forms of voting in Florida: Mail and Early Voting.
In the meantime, we wait to see what DeSantis’ new election enforcement unit will do next. His first stunt in August — staging the humiliating arrest of 20 ex-felons who were accused of voting even though they were ineligible — is quickly collapsing as evidence mounts that most of those arrested were told by various government officials that they could register and vote. On October 21, the first of these cases was dismissed. We expect more acquittals to follow, but we also know the damage that has been done.
If your right to vote is contested, these hotlines. backed by a coalition that includes dozens of state and national voting rights groups, can help:
- English: 866-OUR-VOTE (866-687-8683)
- Spanish/English: 888-VE-Y-VOTA (888-839-8682)
- Arabic/English: 844-YALLA-US
- Asian Languages/English: 888-API-VOTE (888-274-8683)
— Electoral protection
Ex-felons who want to vote may now think twice, fearing that they will be the next to hear a knock on their door.
Meanwhile, local and state constituency groups are concerned about what threats may emerge in the coming weeks. They recall the wild rumors that circulated on Florida Spanish radio stations before Election Day 2020, including rumors that Black Lives Matter was engaging in some form of “brujería” (witchcraft) to steal votes for Joe Biden. Most of us have also seen misinformation circulating on social media.
Get the latest political news updates from Central Florida and across the state.
The demotivation is bad enough. But Florida’s leading human rights groups wrote to Attorney General Ashley Moody last week, fearing more confrontational, even violent, efforts to block voters from the polls during early voting and on Election Day. He cites groups emerging from the shadows — including the apparent resurgence of Florida’s Proud Boy faction, which has a history of voter intimidation, and One More Mission, a new group backed by former Trump official and campaign conspiracy promoter Michael Flynn. PBS’s Frontline recently aired an episode that took viewers inside Flynn’s appearance at a far-right community site in Sarasota County known as The Hollow, a bunker-like place where he invited members to register to become pollworkers and pollwatchers. Princeton University’s Bridging Divides Initiative ranks Florida third in voter intimidation cases over the past two years. The nonpartisan Election Protection Initiative recorded hundreds of calls from Florida in 2020.
The groups signing the Moody letter, which include the NAACP Legal Defense and Educational Fund, Common Cause Florida, All Voting is Local Florida, LatinoJustice, the League of Women Voters of Florida and others, asked Moody to issue a statement condemning the actions and vowing to prosecute. We hope that such a statement will come.
Because unlike the imaginary sins contemplated by the new DeSantis police, voter harassment and intimidation are real crimes, punishable under state and federal law, and can take many forms—employers threatening their employees if they vote against the wishes of management. Neighbors destroying cars because they protest a political bumper sticker. Scary posts on social media about retaliation against the “woke left.”
If you’re feeling overwhelmed, there’s help. We have included voter helplines that will provide advice and, if necessary, legal assistance. We will have an editorial on our website that we published earlier this week outlining voter rights and responsibilities.
We’re trying to understand the mentality of people — from Florida’s top officials to the violent groups behind the January 6, 2021 Capitol invasion — who call themselves proud Americans, but then fight to make it harder to vote or block access to the ballot box. . But we don’t have to understand it. We just have to face it. Hold on to this most precious right. And remember, if you are targeted, you are not alone: there is help. This is your right and they have your back.
The Orlando Sentinel Editorial Board consists of Opinions Editor Krys Fluker, Managing Editor Julie Anderson and Opinions Editor Jay Reddick. Contact us at [email protected]