Mi Familia Vota Florida State Director, Nancy Batista, testified before the Committee on House Administration on the state of voting rights and elections operations in the state, which has one of the most repressive, disenfranchisement policies in the nation. She testified alongside former Tallahassee mayor, Andrew Gillum and partners from Common Cause Florida and Family Action Network Movement. Between 2010 and 2016, the number of disenfranchised Floridian voters grew from 150,000 to approximately 1.68 million, under Republican-led lawmakers. The right to vote is fundamental to a strong, thriving democracy, and Mi Familia Vota in Florida has worked for years to safeguard every voter’s rights to freely access the ballot.
A written copy of her testimony is below:
My name is Nancy Batista, I am the Florida state director of Mi Familia Vota Education Fund 501c3 and also Mi Familia Vota 501c4 non profit organization. Our mission is to build Latino political power. We do this by registering people to vote, encouraging civic participation, and expanding the electorate through the citizenship workshops that we provide. Last year, we registered 29,745 people to vote, we knocked on 101,496 doors, called 734 people and sent 152,535 Texts/SMS to get out the vote (GOTV) in Florida alone.
We also completed a campaign to get out the vote for the primary election and for the general election.We work in low propensity, high density Latino areas in an effort to transform voter culture in our community, starting with those who are least likely to vote, which separates us from other organizations. During the voter registration process, we ensured that our constituents had access to numerous forms of voting such as voting by mail – we worked to signed up our community to receive a vote by mail ballot – and took care to educated our community on the importance of voting.
During the primary election, we had 4 teams of 5 people each that were knocking on doors and motivating our neighborhoods to vote.
We invest our resources and manpower into making sure that our community is prepared and able to vote.
Everything seemed to be going well until we were notified of voting irregularities. One of our community members received a letter stating that their mail-in ballot had been voided due to a signature mismatch, although they had not changed their signature since high school. Because of this, I knew that I needed to change my strategy for our Florida GOTV efforts. I shared the letter with my staff and I mentioned to them that we needed to push the message for early voting instead of voting by mail.
The time for early voting came for the
general election, I was prepared and I went to my early voting site. While I was there a couple of things happened. First, I walked in to surrender my ballot because I wanted to make sure that my vote would count. As I tried to surrender my ballot, the person working there told me that I could not surrender my ballot but instead for me to complete it and to put it in the drop off box. I refused, I told her that I wanted a provisional ballot and that I wanted to surrender my mail in ballot. She told me again that this was not protocol and that she could not do this. I told her to please contact her supervisor and that I was aware of my rights and that I knew that I could do this. I waited for her to make contact with her supervisor. While I waited for her to get clearance I saw something else happen.
I heard how another person working there told an older lady that the person next to her could not be next to her while voting. The person responded back that he was her son and that he was assisting her because she did not understand. The lady continued to say that he could not be there with her. Then, the son asked for the material in Spanish and she said they did not have it at this time. The person told the lady, you don’t have this information in Spanish and you won’t let me assist my mom that doesn’t understand English. Do you have someone that can assist her? The lady said no. I jumped in and told her that I would be calling voter protection services about this incident to let them know about both incidents.
The other person came back with another person next to her, she told me that I could surrender
my ballot and that they would be giving me a provisional ballot. I turned around and I no longer saw the mother and son. They had left without completing the ballot, without voting.
I got to my office, I called a lawyer from our partner organization, Latino Justice, and told her what I had just witnessed and experienced. I also called voter protection services and let them know about the incidents and also told them that this Polk early voting site did not have any Spanish material and no one that could assist there that was bilingual either.
In addition to these stories, our community has openly shared their alarming experiences (reminder: voting is a right). We hosted “Party at the Polls” in order to motivate our communities to go out to vote, while we were there we heard stories that we helped report using a voter protection services number.
Election day arrived and we were at the office, we had to assist with confusion caused by inconsistencies on our voting system; Our office is near a library that was used as an early voting site, but it was not a voting site for Election Day. We assisted those people by looking
up their information and by providing them with updated information for their nearest
alternative polling place. Voting was more than inconvenient for others: one constituent shared that their voting site was inside a gated community and that there was a passcode to get in
and that she was not able to enter. My colleague told her that it was best for her to go to the Supervisor of Elections and for her to cast her vote that way.
Florida has robust voting statistics. Thirty-two million Latinos will be eligible to vote in the 2020 elections, 3.3 million of those eligible live in Florida. Currently, we have 1.9 million Latinos registered to vote, making up 16% of total registered voters. There are 671,000 Latinos in Florida currently eligible but not registered to vote. Between 2018 and 2020 there will be 168,000 Latino youth aging into the electorate. Lastly, there are 636,600 Latino Legal Permanent Residents currently eligible to naturalize and register to vote. Together, we can decide the future of our state and that of our nation.
Voters deserve healthier voting systems that support them in exercising their right to vote. We need to move into same day voter registration so that we can avoid signature mismatch, (this is hugely important for youth since sometimes students pre-register to vote at age 16 and their signature might change by the time they are 18 when they receive their voter card). Additionally, we need to make sure that staff are properly trained to make sure that signatures are accurately being matched and so that people’s ballots are not being voided due to personal prejudices or racial profiling.
I am here today to uplift the voices of those people that have been suppressed, I just want to make sure that our voices are heard and for our votes to be counted.