For Immediate Release
ACLU of Florida Launches “Let Me Vote” Campaign to Empower Vulnerable Voters
Floridians share personal stories to highlight the importance of becoming informed to overcome voting barriers
WASHINGTON - Today, a group of Floridians ranging from lifelong voting rights activists to newly sworn-in U.S. citizens came together to share stories of overcoming newly-created barriers to the ballot box and participate in the most important part of our democracy, the right to vote. The event, held at the Miami Dade College Wolfson Campus, marked the launch of the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) of Florida’s “Let Me Vote” campaign, part of a nationwide ACLU campaign of the same name seeking to empower America’s most vulnerable voters by getting accessible, accurate information to them to prevent voting restrictions from getting in their way.
Recent changes in Florida election laws and procedures have made it more difficult for some Floridians to vote. These barriers include a 2011 law that makes it more difficult for people to register to vote and restricts early voting and voter address changes;, a state law requiring photo ID at the polls;, and new restrictions to the state’s process for restoration of civil rights for former felons. Portions of these laws have been challenged by groups including the ACLU of Florida, and while some barriers have been lifted, these new policies threaten to exclude thousands of Floridians from participating in our democracy.
The ACLU of Florida’s “Let Me Vote” campaign seeks to make sure every Floridian - particularly African Americans, Hispanics, and young voters, all of whom are disproportionately impacted by the voting rule changes and restrictions - understands how these changes may impact them, and how by becoming familiar with the rules, they can come to the ballot box and make their voice heard.
“The ACLU and coalition partners have been challenging and pushing back against voter suppression schemes in Florida and across the nation,” stated Howard Simon, Executive Director of the ACLU of Florida. “With some success, we have encouraged the courts to strike down restrictions on access to the voting booth -- but too many barriers still remain.”
“I’m confident that Floridians will not let these barriers stand in their way,” Simon continued. “Over the next several weeks, the faces of suppression will become the voices of empowerment as Floridians share the importance of becoming informed voters, ready to defend their right to vote. Every one of us has a simple message: ‘let me vote.’”
At the launch of the campaign, Floridians from all walks of life shared their personal stories of triumphing over roadblocks to voting in order to inspire other Floridians to do the same.
Portions of their stories are below:
Carolina Gonzalez – Public Information Officer, ACLU of Florida
“The barriers to voting in my home country (of Venezuela) may be 2000 miles long, but it’s a journey I’m willing to make. I hope American citizens will be willing to make the much shorter journey alongside me this fall, ultimately arriving at the same destination: a democracy as it was meant to be.”
Maribel Balbin – President, League of Women Voters of Miami
“Discouraging third-party voter registration groups from registering voters has a disproportionate impact on the minority community. Minority voters, such as blacks and Hispanics, are twice as likely to register to vote via a third-party group as non-minority voters. […]The New York Times reported that Florida was down 81,000 in voter registration this year, we at the League are doing everything possible to overcome that.”
Natalie Carlier – South Florida Regional Field Coordinator for Civic Engagement, National Council of La Raza
“In 2008 on the morning of election day, my mother rushed into my room at 6am to force me out of bed because we were going to go vote together. […] We stood in line together that day, waiting for the polls to open, and I realized then that my mom had come a long way from Colombia to the U.S. to let her voice be heard. And if it was important enough for her, it was important enough for me.”
Kish’sha B. Sharp – General Counsel, NAACP Miami-Dade Branch
“We have answered the assault by registering more voters, and most importantly educating them on the new rules to ensure they have full access at the ballot box and turn out to vote. We have utilized mobile technology and social media to recruit volunteers and register and educate voters. […]The bottom line is that we will not let any of the tactics be an excuse for anyone to fail to exercise their right to vote.”
Gilca Santos – A newly sworn-in U.S. citizen
“It was one of the happiest days of my life. The day I got married, the day we arrived in the U.S., the days when my three children were born, and the day I became a citizen. […] Now that I am a citizen, I want to exercise my right to vote. I just registered for the first time one month ago and I am very excited. I want to help people from my community, and if I vote I can do it.”
Fanny Rengifo – A Colombian-born U.S. citizen registering to vote for the first time
“Today, I am registering to vote. Despite the fact that I’ve been a citizen for almost 5 years now, I felt alone and without any motivation to vote. But this election I am more motivated than ever. […]Today I have a group of friends that teach me, support and encourage me, and this year I will finally feel the joy of casting my vote to help others achieve their dreams, the way I wanted to achieve my dreams, the way my daughter is achieving her dreams too.”
Jameer Baptise – Field Director, SAVE Dade
“Throughout my upbringing as a first generation American I was constantly reminded that the single most powerful contribution I could make to my country and one afforded to me as a birthright was my duty to vote. Every time I help someone register to vote, I replay the story of my mom and dad; the memories of when each were finally eligible to step into the booth and punch the holes and pull the lever and how it made them feel truly American.”
Dr. Rosalind Osgood – Secretary-Treasurer, Florida Rights Restoration Coalition
“Nothing in my history has led me to doubt that an empowered community will always overcome the most insurmountable challenges before them. I am a testament to that; So many of you in this room today are a testament to that; And across the country in the face of voter suppression, millions are standing together as testament to the strength of an empowered electorate.”
Wednesday’s event was co-sponsored by: Miami-Dade College, Florida Immigrant Coalition, Florida Rights Restoration Coalition, the League of Women Voters of Miami-Dade County, the NAACP Miami-Dade Branch, the National Council of La Raza, and SAVE Dade.
Additional information about the ACLU of Florida’s “Let Me Vote” campaign is available at http://www.aclufl.org/letmevote
A collection of high-resolution photos from the event is available here: http://www.aclufl.org/letmevote/20120-09-ACLULetMeVoteLaunchPhotos.zip
Full text of the speakers’ stories, audio from the event and broadcast-quality HD video are available upon request.
The American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) conserves America's original civic values working in courts, legislatures and communities to defend and preserve the individual rights and liberties guaranteed to every person in the United States by the Constitution and the Bill of Rights.