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Crist asks federal government to safeguard Florida’s voting rights

Crist sent the letter in his capacity as a U.S. representative, pointing to recent Florida election laws.
In the letter to Attorney General Merrick Garland, U.S. Rep. Charlie Crist wrote that Florida’s laws have disenfranchised citizens and created a “hostility” around the constitutional right to vote.
In the letter to Attorney General Merrick Garland, U.S. Rep. Charlie Crist wrote that Florida’s laws have disenfranchised citizens and created a “hostility” around the constitutional right to vote. [ ARIELLE BADER | Special to the Times ]
Published Jun. 6|Updated Jun. 6

U.S. Rep. Charlie Crist on Friday sent a letter to the U.S. attorney general asking for the resources of the Department of Justice to help ensure Floridians’ voting rights are protected in the upcoming elections.

In the letter to Attorney General Merrick Garland, Crist wrote that Florida’s laws have disenfranchised citizens and created a “hostility” around the constitutional right to vote.

“America has come a long way from poll taxes, literacy tests, and open intimidation and suppression of minority groups,” Crist said in his letter. “But in the Sunshine State, what were whispers of Jim Crow-era voter suppression have become a foreboding roar.”

Crist, a Democrat running with the hope of unseating Gov. Ron DeSantis, pointed to the newly created Office of Election Crimes and Security within the Secretary of State’s office. The office was a DeSantis priority during this year’s legislative session.

Related: DeSantis signs controversial voting bill, creates election crimes office

Crist wrote that the responsibilities of the election force have been made intentionally vague so that anyone can be investigated at any time. He said that the office gives the governor “virtually no guardrails — even a Governor who is on the ballot.”

Crist noted concerns as well with Cord Byrd, DeSantis’ pick for secretary of state. Byrd recently publicly dodged a question about whether President Joe Biden won the 2020 election, saying that there were “irregularities” in other states. Crist also raised questions about Byrd’s wife, who has drawn criticism for a tweet about the Jan. 6 insurrection.

In response to the letter, a spokesperson for the governor wrote in an email that “the best way to protect the rights of Florida’s voters is to ensure that elections are safe and secure.”

A Department of Justice spokesperson confirmed receipt of the letter but declined to comment further.

Related: Florida election chief Cord Byrd: More elections changes could be necessary

Along with the new elections force, Crist said a 2021 Florida law that cracked down on third-party voter registration, ballot drop boxes and mail ballot requests would disproportionately affect seniors and people with disabilities.

Parts of the 2021 election law were found unconstitutional by a federal judge, who blocked provisions he deemed unconstitutional. But a federal appeals court panel later reinstated it, saying the federal judge’s ruling came too close to the November election and had flaws in its argument.

Crist also pointed to Amendment 4 in 2018, a voter-approved amendment that would reinstate the right to vote to many former felons. He said that effort was curtailed by the Legislature, which passed a law requiring that all financial obligations be paid first.

“A poll tax by another name,” Crist said in the letter.

Crist’s office said he sent the letter because it is the Department of Justice’s job to protect voting rights under the Civil Rights Division and monitor for evidence of politically motivated voter intimidation.

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Agriculture Commissioner Nikki Fried, another Democrat running for governor, sent a similar letter Monday to Assistant Attorney General for Civil Rights Kristen Clarke.

In her letter, Fried said the congressional redistricting map passed by the state, which was developed by the governor’s office, is “unconstitutional” and “blatantly discriminatory.” She asked the department to closely monitor Florida officials’ actions related to the election and to take action if necessary.

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