Ron DeSantis and his voter investigation unit are having a chilling effect on Black voters

Ron DeSantis and his voter investigation unit are having a chilling effect on Black voters

When Florida Republican Gov. Ron DeSantis signed a bill in April to launch what had all the makings of being a dark election-fraud special police, it was difficult to imagine it actually coming to fruition. And yet it has. In August, deputies from the department arrested 20 Floridians for allegedly voting illegally—and 15 of them (unsurprisingly) were Black voters.

All of the accused were charged with voting illegally. Most people who were formerly convicted in Florida are allowed to vote, and those who were arrested believed that they had that right. That is, until DeSantis’ thugs showed up.

The reverberations of those arrests in the August sting left a mark. Black voters in the Sunshine State in particular are afraid because DeSantis’ 47-page law has a slew of other rules, where slip-ups could land someone in jail or, at the very least, leave them facing steep fines.

RELATED STORY: DeSantis signs voter bill officially authorizing Gestapo-like election police force

LaVon Bracy, the director of democracy for religious nonprofit agency Faith in Florida, which encourages civic participation, tells The Washington Post, “These laws were put in place to intimidate people, and that’s what’s happening… People are just wondering, is it worth it?”

Someone can deliver ballots for a family member, but new forms would need to be filled out, and only two ballots can be delivered if they’re not family members.

Bracy tells the Post that for years she volunteered to deliver mail-in ballots at the elections office for people that were unable to stand in line on Election Day or for those who didn’t trust the mail.

“I have been one who has collected hundreds of ballots, all legitimate ballots, to help persons and make it convenient for them to vote… Now I’m getting calls from people saying, ‘Ms. Bracy, can you come get my ballot?’ I say, ‘Sorry, no. I’m not going to risk getting a police record.’” DeSantis has deemed this activity “ballot harvesting,” and his law makes it a third-degree felony punishable by a $5,000 fine and up to five years behind bars.

Also, there are new laws stopping organizations from registering voters. These groups go to places where Black voters are, like churches, street fairs, or supermarkets. This is especially important for voters without transportation who need to get to the Department of Motor Vehicles to vote, Daniel A. Smith, a University of Florida elections expert, tells the Post.

DeSantis’ law fines these third-party groups up to $50,000. The Post reports that over 96,000 people registered via third-party groups in 2018. In 2022, that number dropped to 31,000.

“People are afraid of somehow running afoul of the law, and a lot of organizations don’t want to take that risk because it could basically bankrupt them,” Smith says.

DeSantis’ suppressive law also limits the time and locations of ballot drop boxes.

During a congressional subcommittee hearing in May, Cecile Scoon, president of the League of Women Voters of Florida, said the new rules specifically impact Black voters.

“Given the multiple jobs that many African Americans have, and the shift work they do, it’s going to be impossible, or close to impossible, for them to get off during regular business hours to use the drop box,” Scoon said.

According to the Florida Division of Elections, as of Sept. 30, 2022, the GOP in Florida has out-registered Democrats by 5,259,406 to 4,966,873, the widest gap in the state’s history. In other words, DeSantis’ intimidation efforts have been working.

As the Post reports, however, it hasn’t just been the law DeSantis signed that drastically changed things for Black voters. The governor also took the reins of drawing political borders for candidates into his own hands.

DeSantis rejected the GOP’s congressional redistricting maps and instead drew one that favored his party—and handed the state a 71% advantage in the House.

The map splits Florida’s 10th Congressional district held by Rep. Val Demings, a Black Democrat who’s currently running for U.S. Senate against incumbent Marco Rubio, and it all but ends Rep. Al Lawson’s congressional role by slicing up a district that extends through North Florida and merges Black neighborhoods in Jacksonville and Tallahassee, The New York Times reported at the time.

“It’s so blatantly partisan,” Matthew Isbell, a leading Florida-based Democratic data consultant, told NBC News. “The only way you can create a 20-and-8 map … was to basically say, ‘Screw Black representation.’”

Johnny Henderson, 75, tells the Post he used the services of a volunteer to cast his ballot recently.

“Every election, it seems like a different law is put into place… I’m not criticizing, but it seems like they’re trying to make it harder to vote,” Henderson says.

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