Threats to Voters Who Need Help at the Polls

A Florida proposal would limit assistance for those like 102-year-old Desiline Victor who need help casting their ballots. 

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Desiline Victor (MSNBC TV)

(The Root) -- Remember 102-year-old Desiline Victor, whose story President Obama highlighted in his State of the Union address? The entire country heard about how she stood in line for three hours to cast her ballot in the presidential election. A lesser-known fact: She also got translation help from an assistor in the community who spoke her native language.

Proposed limits on that type of help could mean that for people like Victor, voting becomes even more difficult -- or even impossible -- in Florida's next election, according to advocates. "Without that vital assistance, Ms. Victor's fundamental right to vote would have been denied," the Advancement Project's Judith Browne Dianis says.

That's why the Advancement Project, along with a coalition of other civil rights organizations, legal groups and immigrant-justice advocates, is speaking out against a Florida amendment that would place limits on the help that voters can receive at the polls.

Currently, voters who are elderly, have disabilities, are visually impaired, don't speak English as their primary language or who can't read and fully understand complex ballot language may bring an assistor of their choice with them into the voting booth. But under a new amendment to Senate Bill 600, introduced last week by Florida Senate Ethics and Elections Committee Chairman Jack Latvala, those casting ballots would be required to know their assistor before the day they vote. Plus, it would limit the number of people whom an assistor may help to 10 voters during any given election.

Cynthia Slater, chair of civic engagement for the Florida State Conference of the NAACP, worries about limitations on the efforts of poll workers and voter advocates, who, she says, are "often a citizen's last line of defense against intimidation, trickery and deceptive practices designed to keep them from voting."

A letter to Sen. Latvala from the group of advocates makes that point. But the more cynical among us might imagine that those who support this bill are already well aware of its potential consequences.

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Sept. 19 2014 8:34 AM