State

Votes and Action, Equality Florida Honors the Victims of Pulse

It has been four years since a gunman shot and killed 49 people at Pulse nightclub in Orlando, Florida. The shooting was the deadliest attack on the LGBTQ community ever to occur in the United States.

The victims’ families and survivors have partnered with Equality Florida, an LGBTQ civil rights advocacy organization, and relaunched #HonorThemWithAction, which is a voter mobilization program.

Brandon Wolfe, a survivor of the shooting and a staff member for Equality Florida, writes, “our work is about registering and mobilizing voters. It is about educating people on the issues. It is about electing politicians who know our lived experiences, hear our voices, and care enough to act.”

According to a news release from the organization, Equality Florida’s #HonorThemWithAction includes educating voters on candidates’ stances, steps to update voter registration, and how to sign up for vote-by-mail ballots. All of the efforts are planned at targeting 500,000 “pro-equality voters.”

The first phase of the program, Kicking off Friday, is intended to make sure that the 500,000 “pro-equality voters” are signed up to receive vote-by-mail ballots for the upcoming August primary. For the summer, Equality Florida plans to continue peer-to-peer texting, phone calls and emails as part of their mass communication strategy to increase voter turnout.   

Equality Florida’s voter mobilization is part of the organization’s wide-ranging commitment to fighting systemic racism, police brutality and white supremacy after the deaths of George Floyd, Breonna Taylor and Rayshard Brooks. After the death of Mr. Floyd, the organization coordinated a sign-on letter with more than 800 LGBTQ groups committed to fighting against racial violence.

Black Lives Matter protests and voter suppression efforts in primary elections across the country have increased mobilization efforts for underrepresented groups to vote in November. However, the COVID-19 pandemic combined with flawed electoral infrastructure have posed significant challenges for voter mobilization in Florida.

According to a study from the Center for Election Innovation & Research, voter registration in Florida has plummeted from 110,000 new registrations in February to approximately 20,000 registrations in April. The rising number of COVID-19 cases in Florida has forced voter engagement groups to transition to online voter registration and has also led to more registered voters ordering vote-by-mail ballots.

All 67 election supervisors in Florida wrote to Gov. Ron DeSantis and warned him about the lack of preparation to meet the increasing demands for more electoral protections for poll workers and for more early voting locations. 10 weeks after the letter was written, Gov. DeSantis signed an executive order that facilitates state employees to work as poll workers during election day in response to the concerns. 

Yet, supervisors of elections are not satisfied with the order as many of them have started election training without the essential resources they had requested. In a press release, Craig Latimer, Hillsborough County Supervisor of Elections, continues to raise his concerns: “It comes at a point when many of the state’s Supervisors of Elections have already solidified their plans for the August primary election.”

Despite the challenges, Equality Florida is committed to the mission of targeting and turning out voters for the LGBTQ community come November.

Joe Saunders, Equality Florida’s Senior Political Director, emphasizes that “we live in the most important political real estate in the country, and pro-equality voters are positioned to make the difference between a state that will be won or lost by 100,000 votes. In 2020, we’re going to leave it all on the field.” 

Featured Image: Pulse makeshift memorial (Unmodified photo by: WalterPro Under Creative Commons License 2.0 https://bit.ly/2YYfpW7).

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