Black Florida senator leads vote by-mail campaign in advance of midterm elections

Sen. Shevrin J. Jones launched Operation BlackOut to help Black voters register for Florida's electoral process by mail.

Black Florida senator leads vote by-mail campaign in advance of midterm elections

A Florida legislator launched a campaign to encourage more Black and Afro Latino voters to vote by mail. This is to avoid new laws that could disproportionately limit voters of color.

Democratic state senator Shevrin Jones led the initiative. The goal of Operation BlackOut was to enroll 40,000 non-traditional voters of color in mail voting this year. This effort is coming after the passage of Senate Bill 90 last year, which restricts mail voting and months before midterm elections in Novem.

Operation BlackOut targets voters in rural areas of color and non-traditional voters. This means people who are not eligible to vote in the midterm elections or are unlikely to vote. It is an attempt to keep voters engaged in electoral processes other than presidential elections, he said.

Jones stated that "so often in these cycles we are only speaking to Black people when the time is to vote." It's disingenuous and old. People who want to build lasting collective power are not able to do so.

According to data from Pew Research Center, Black and Latino voters were more likely to vote in November 2020, either by mail, absentee ballot, or in person. According to the report, 38 percent of Black voters voted by mail compared with 62 percent who voted in-person. However, voting by mail remains a popular option in Florida. It rose from 30 percent to 46 percent in 2016, to 46 percent in 2020, according the Orlando Sentinel.

Experts say that while voting by mail is less popular among Black voters than it was in the past, programs such as Operation BlackOut offer education and solve problems that keep Black communities from going to the polls.

Cornell Belcher, a Democratic pollster, and MSNBC analyst, stated that "trying to expand and get more people into vote-by-mail is directly going at one the root causes why so many people say they don't vote,". They don't have the time or money to wait in line for hours or even two hours to vote because they are busy with their lives.

Benefits of voting by mail

Sharon Austin, a University of Florida political science professor, stated that voting by mail is just one of many ways to increase Black voter turnout for the midterm elections. Operation BlackOut will engage voters through churches and community events, as well as door-to-door organizing. All in the hope that they will sign up for voting by mail via its online portal.

Austin stated, "I believe it is part of an overall project to ensure that people of color, particularly African Americans, vote during midterm election." They have always voted in presidential elections but their turnout usually drops dramatically during midterms.

An NBC News analysis of 2019 Census Voting-age Data reveals that 40,000 voters would account for about 1.2 per cent of Florida's nearly 3.4 million non-white voters.

Austin stated that voting by mail has many benefits for Black and Latino voters who are more likely than others to encounter problems at the polling stations, such as long lines or equipment issues.

Austin stated that "they have problems in the sense of the equipment being older, there is breakdowns, and especially during presidential election, there are long queues." You can avoid all these problems by voting by mail.

Jones stated that many Black voters don't believe their votes can change the status quo.

"Hundreds of thousands of Black and Brown voters have not voted since Obama -- it's not because of their inability to vote. Jones stated that they are not being asked about their opinions and don't feel heard. "Operation BlackOut will go directly to these voters -- those who are ignored by campaigns due to their low turnout score. We're going tell them they're important, we are going to listen, remind them that their voice is important, then we'll enroll them by mail to vote and make sure they get to vote."

Austin stated that many recent efforts to get voters to vote on the ground early and by mail are a continuation of tactics used during Barack Obama’s 2008 presidential campaign. To encourage voters of color, the Obama campaign stressed early voting in order to encourage them to vote before Election Day.

These efforts were key to the campaign's success.

She said that it made a big difference in Florida because Obama won in Florida in 2008 and 2012. But not by large margins. He was able to mobilize his base and make a difference in an election that was close. ... I believe that politicians are now aware of this."

Donald Trump employed a similar strategy in 2016 to win votes in the state during his presidential campaign.

"The same could have been said for President Trump, when he won Florida. ... Austin stated that he didn't win by a wide margin when he defeated Hillary Clinton. He learned a lot from President Obama's strategy, Austin said. "It's important to register your base, but it's even more important to get them to vote."

Austin stated that if the campaign is successful in increasing Black turnout, it could lead towards more African American representation at the Legislature. She stated that this could restore confidence among voters of colour in Florida, who feel disenfranchised at voting.

Senate Bill 90, signed by Gov. Governor Ron DeSantis signed SB 90 in May. It requires residents to present their state ID numbers as well as Social Security numbers in order to receive mail-in ballots. Austin stated that a possible increase in Black voters could change this in the long-term.

She said, "They can vote for the people in the Legislature with views similar to theirs and they can also vote for people who don't support legislation like SB 90."

She said that the potential for success could also cause backlash.

She stated that if there is a record turnout in vote-by mail ballots from Black and Brown voters, then you will likely see a negative reaction by the Legislature. They'll propose legislation similar to SB 90, or worse, to make it more difficult for them to allow people to vote by post.

Jones stated that Operation BlackOut will kick off this month. He hopes that the organization can eventually help create a statewide infrastructure which can be replicated in other states. It also helps to spread a larger message in politics, he said.

He said, "Don't discount Florida." "We are creating an infrastructure for long-term... putting hope in the process, engaging individuals back in the process so it can last for many years."
CORRECTION (Feb. 17, 20,22, 3:15 PM. ET: An earlier version of this article incorrectly stated that Shevrin is Florida's only Black senator. He is the only Black LGBTQ state senator.


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