Florida’s only Black legislator, Sen. Shevrin Jones, has rolled out the campaign Operation BlackOut to help voters of color vote by mail, reported NBC News. As Florida places tighter restrictions on voting, Jones is determined to find a way for Black and brown voters to cast their ballots.
Operation BlackOut’s goal is to get 40,000 voters in rural areas to vote by mail this year, reported NBC. Recognizing some voters are less likely to vote in midterm elections as opposed to presidential ones, Jones is determined to make sure voters are kept in the loop of the electoral process. Every election counts.
“So often in these cycles, we are only talking to Black people when it’s time to vote,” Jones said. “It’s disingenuous, it’s old, and it is not becoming of people who are trying to build sustainable permanent collective power.”
Black and Latino populations were more likely than white voters to cast early ballots in the November 2020 election, through the mail, by absentee ballot or by voting in person, according to data from the Pew Research Center. The report found that 38 percent of Black people voted by mail, compared to 62 percent who voted in person. Yet, voting by mail is still a popular option in Florida; it jumped from 30 percent of the vote in 2016 to 46 percent in 2020 in the presidential primaries, the Orlando Sentinel reported.
Operation BlackOut is also going to address the obstacles that make it hard for Black people to vote, per NBC. For example, voters who don’t have the ability to travel and wait in line to vote sometimes decide not to vote at all. Additionally, per Florida Politics, this initiative should increase voter turnout among not only voters of color but also among young voters.
However, it’s important to address why Operation BlackOut had to be created in the first place. The new Senate Bill 90, signed by Gov. Ron DeSantis, requires Florida residents to show state ID or Social Security numbers to request mail-in ballots, per the Miami Herald. The bill also shortens timeframe for when they can request mail ballots from four years to two years and limits drop box availability to only early voting hours.
Groups and organizations who advocate for voting rights didn’t let the bill through without a challenge.
From Miami Herald:
The new voting law prompted multiple lawsuits by several civil rights and voting rights groups, including the League of Women Voters and the NAACP.
“SB 90 is a bill that purports to solve problems that do not exist, caters to a dangerous lie about the 2020 election that threatens our most basic democratic values, and, in the end, makes it harder to vote without adequate justification for doing so,” wrote the plaintiffs in the suit filed by lawyer Marc Elias on behalf of the League of Women Voters.
Additionally, per a CBS report, DeSantis proposed putting together a special election police force to fight against voter fraud which we know will have complications when it comes to Black and brown voters. League of Women Voters’ Cecile Scoon said it was just another barrier to keep Black people from voting.
“Bringing law enforcement and having them be around looking for problems... There is a concern and there’s the fear and there’s that chilling factor that they’re going to target Black people,” she said via CBS News.
Operation BlackOut will base their outreach on grassroots organizing by meeting the community where they’re at, per NBC. There is also an online portal for voters to request their mail-in ballots. University of Florida political science professor Sharon Austin told NBC News this tactic was inspired by Obama’s presidential campaign when voters of color voted early by mail ahead of the election.
Operation BlackOut’s motives are not short-term. With a greater Black voter turnout comes a greater chance of Black leaders being voted to office. Once Black leaders are elected to office, they can reverse the voting restrictions that have been imposed. Jones said he also hopes the initiative can contribute to statewide infrastructure.
Operation BlackOut is going directly to those voters — the ones that are ignored by campaigns because they don’t have a high turnout score — and we’re going to tell them they are important, we’re going to listen while reminding them their voice is important, and we’re going to enroll them to vote by mail and make sure they vote.” Jones said via NBC News.