Tea Party Group Blocks Florida Voters, Stops Water Handouts at Polls

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Tea party activists in Florida’s largely black and electorally significant Interstate 4 corridor have worked furiously to put a damper on what has been a record-setting turnout thus far. In one of the most striking examples of voter suppression to emerge, Voting Rights Watch obtained a list of several dozen Hillsborough County voters who will be surprised to learn they cannot vote regular ballots thanks to last-minute challenges filed against them.

I’ve requested similar information from Miami-Dade, Orange, Pinellas and Seminole counties, but officials have not responded. A spokesperson for the Secretary of State’s Office, Chris Cate, said the state does not track voter challenges, so there is no way of knowing how widespread these sorts of challenges may be.

In Hillsborough County, 77 people—40 of them in Tampa—won’t be able to file a regular ballot because the True the Vote-affiliated group Tampa Vote Fair has challenged their voting status. Of those, 68 have been challenged because Tampa Vote Fair asserts they are ineligible due to a felony conviction. These people will not know that their vote has been challenged until they reach the polls and are forced to cast a provisional ballot. (Some of them may have already attempted to vote during the early voting period.)

According to documents provided to Voting Rights Watch by Hillsborough County Attorney’s office, all 77 of the voter challenges were filed by Kimberly Kelley, Tampa Vote Fair’s president, and all are dated Oct. 16, 2012—a full week after voter registration ended in Florida. Earlier this year, Kelley sent to the Hillsborough County Supervisor of Elections multiple lists of people she suspected were ineligible to vote due to felony convictions. One of those lists had 1,375 names on it, which the county supervisor forwarded on to the state to investigate, but which turned up no names yet of people improperly registered.

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