The day I got my driver’s license was the same day I became a pre-registered voter in the state of Florida. All it took was filling out a short form at the DMV after I finished my driving test, which felt very quick and straightforward. Unfortunately, as I began to engage more in politics, I learned that this process was not straightforward at all for many people in Florida.
In November 2018, I stood in line at Florida State’s sole campus voting station, where I had cast my first-ever ballot in 2016. This time, I was told that since I no longer lived on campus I would have to travel to my new polling place in a different part of the city. Later, I learned about other issues that peers had faced when trying to vote — including that a few of my friends were almost prevented from early voting due to a parking rule that was later declared unconstitutional. While awaiting the election results that night, I heard on the news that thousands of ballots had been lost. I had always felt motivated by my belief that every person’s vote mattered, but I was now seeing evidence that that wasn’t really the case.
Thankfully, we are making progress. In 2018, Floridians voted decisively to restore voting rights to 1.4 million formerly incarcerated people. The decision represented a second chance at civic participation for people whose rights had been stripped away unjustly and a rejection of a racist policy that largely targets people of color. Unfortunately, it also wasn’t the end of the story. The Legislature attempted to add a caveat to that bill by requiring all court fines and fees to be paid prior to the restoration of voting rights, which amounts to a modern-day poll tax that would disenfranchise people. While that bill was temporarily blocked, the fight for the rights of our fellow citizens must continue.
How can we make this process easier? We can ensure early voting is an option regardless of the number of parking spots available. We can advocate for solutions that have worked in other states, including same-day voter registration, the use of student IDs as valid identification, and an increase in the number of on-campus polling stations. We can also ensure that the amendment that over 64 percent of Floridians voted to pass is enacted without exceptions, and that we provide accessible resources that ensure people impacted by this law are aware of the steps they need to take to regain their rights. The criminal justice system itself is already skewed to disenfranchise certain populations and tying this broken system to participation in our democracy perpetuates a persistent cycle of inequality.
I believe that Florida has the opportunity to be a leader by making positive changes to our electoral system— and we can start by ensuring that each and every person is given the right to vote. As we head into 2020, it’s clear that the time to act on this issue is now.
Stefanie Caros is an intern at Generation Progress in Washington, D.C. A graduate of Florida State University, she is from Oldsmar.