Durbin Chairs First-ever Field Hearing on Florida's Voting Law

Hearing Comes Just Days Before Florida's Presidential Primary

[TAMPA, FLORIDA] - US Senator Dick Durbin (D-IL), Chairman of the Senate Judiciary Subcommittee on the Constitution, Civil Rights and Human Rights, held a field hearing in Tampa, Florida today, examining the impact of Florida’s new voting law, which restricts early voting and makes it harder for third-party groups to help people register to vote.  Today’s hearing comes just four days before Florida’s presidential primary.


“Four days from now, hundreds of thousands of people across the state of Florida will go to their local polling places to cast a ballot for the person they believe is best prepared to represent their political party in this year’s presidential election,” Durbin said. “Sadly, many of those voters may find their path to the ballot box blocked or filled with obstacles because of recent changes to Florida’s voting laws. Protecting the right of every citizen to vote and ensuring that our elections are fair and transparent are not Democratic or Republican values, they are American values.”


Florida’s new voting law cuts the number of voting days from 14 to 8, making it more difficult for many groups to vote, including senior citizens, students and many working families. The law eliminates early voting the Sunday before an election, disproportionately impacting African-American and Hispanic voters, who make up the overwhelming majority of those who vote the Sunday before an election.


The law also requires third-party organizations that register voters to register with the state and meet onerous administrative requirements, making it more difficult for non-partisan, third-party groups to register voters.  This restriction will likely limit many people’s access to the ballot, as groups like the League of Women Voters, Rock the Vote and the Boy Scouts, have ended voter registration drives in the state. Finally, the new law requires Florida residents who have moved within the state and are updating their addresses, to vote on provisional ballots, raising concerns that those votes may not be counted. In the last election, more than 40% of provisional ballots were not counted.


Two panels of witnesses testified at today’s hearing including: Michael Ertel, Supervisor of Elections, Seminole County, FL; Ann McFall, Supervisor of Elections, Volusia County, FL; Hon. Bruce Smathers, Former Secretary of State of Florida; Daryl Parks, President, National Bar Association; Sara Pemberton, President, Florida College System Student Government Association; Dr. Daniel A. Smith, Professor of Political Science, University of Florida; and Brent A. Wilkes, National Executive Director, League of United Latin American Citizens.


Florida Governor Rick Scott, who signed Florida’s voting law and is its most prominent supporter, failed to respond to an invitation to testify at today’s hearing. A copy of Senator Durbin’s opening statement and copies of the witnesses’ testimony are available below.


Over thirty states have new or pending changes to current voting laws. States seeking to change their laws have passed or proposed provisions that significantly reduce the number of early voting days, require voters to show restrictive forms of photo identification before voting and make it harder for volunteer organizations to register new voters. Supporters of these laws argue that they will reduce the risk of voter fraud. The overwhelming evidence, however, indicates that voter fraud is virtually non-existent and that these new laws will make it harder for hundreds of thousands of elderly, disabled, minority, young, rural, and low-income Americans to exercise their right to vote.


The Subcommittee on the Constitution, Civil Rights and Human Rights held a hearing on these new state voting laws in September of last year. More information on that hearing can be found here.