Pastors criticize changes in Florida voting laws

ORLANDO — 

A group of ministers say changes in Florida voting laws and rules are limiting rights of people who were incarcerated and cannot have their voting rights restored.

The group said as many as 1.3 million Floridians lost their right to vote because those who served prison time now have to wait seven to 13 years before their voting rights can be restored.

“How long does a man have to pay for his crime?” asked Pastor Eddie Walker of In God’s Time Tabernacle in Parramore.

The group also criticized changes in the law that restricts early voting and third-party voter registration.  Last year, state lawmakers approved a measure that sought to reduce the number of early voting days from a maximum of 14 to eight. 

“As a faith community, we simply cannot afford to sit on the sidelines and watch this play out in our state,” saids Rev. Errol Thompson of New Life Fellowship Missionary Baptist Church.  “As a Christian pastor, I believe in protecting those who are marginalized and disenfranchised, and bringing healing to our communities.”

Last week, a federal three-judge court in Washington blocked early voting restrictions in Collier, Hardee, Hendry, Hillsborough and Monroe counties.

It said the new law violated the Voting Rights Act.

Because of a history of discrimination, voting changes require approval from the U.S. Department of Justice or a federal court.

The judges said 54 percent of the state’s black voters had cast their ballots during the early voting period in 2008, a rate twice that of white voters.

Cutting back on early voting would “lead to substantially increased lines, overcrowding and confusion at the polls,” the judges said.

Many groups opposed last year’s changes in the law including the League of Women Voters of Florida.

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