Push to safeguard, expand voting rights in Lee County

Woman voting in Lee County. Credit: WINK News

Even though an election won’t be held until November, Lee County leaders and activists are already working to make sure voting is fair.

Ensuring fair voting is one goal of the John Lewis Voting Rights Advancement Act, but the Senate blocked a vote on the legislation in January. Even though it failed to pass, however, leaders with the American Civil Liberties Union of Florida are now urging Floridians to reach out to lawmakers to have them pass a bill they say will protect voters against discrimination.

The bill would allow online, automatic and same-day voter registration. States would also have to accept a wide range of non-photographic identification from voters and they would have to count eligible votes on provisional ballots cast in the wrong precinct. Tommy Doyle, the Lee County Supervisor of Elections, told WINK News about the local impact he thinks it would have and one thing, in particular, that stood out to him.

“I just don’t like the same-day voter registration; I think that’s a mistake,” Doyle said. “Administratively, you don’t have time to vet each application, whether they’re a citizen, whether they’re a felon, whether they’re even eligible to register. So, to register and vote at the same time, that makes another administrative step that’s going to slow down everything.”

Leaders with the ACLU of Florida believe recent laws that make it illegal to provide food or water to voters in line is one of the ways Black and brown voters are impacted by discriminatory election practices. Another way is through racially gerrymandered district maps.

This brings to the forefront Gov. DeSantis’ plans for redistricting, which would cut the state’s four majority-Black districts to two. In Lee County, a little over 20,000 Black voters voted in the 2020 general election versus more than 315,000 white voters. But Doyle insists that is more or less representative of Lee County.

“Now, if you look at that, I think our registration rolls…  Black voters make up around 10 to 15% of our voter registration,” Doyle said. “It is a low number anyway, so that makes sense that it’s a lower number than the white population… I think it’s represented perfectly, actually.”

Doyle says some election officials are in favor of doing away with precinct voting and allowing voters to vote at any voting site in the county, as they have seen many issues when it comes to voters being required to vote in certain precincts.

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