You may have heard that Florida can be a pretty important state in presidential elections.
As 2020 nears, Spread the Vote founder Kat Calvin says her group is more than aware of that fact. The organization works in states with voter ID laws to help prospective voters get their hands on those IDs.
With an expanded group of Florida voters available in 2020, courtesy of Amendment 4, Calvin says her organization will be working overtime to make sure those residents who want to vote will be able to cast their ballot.
“With this new pool of voters, as well as the whole new group of Puerto Rican citizens who are here, there’s potential for Florida to be the game-changer, or one of, in 2020,” Calvin said.
“So for us, it’s where a lot of our resources and attention are going.”
Calvin sat down to speak with Florida Politics during a recent trip to South Florida. She said she was there to develop a new partnership for her group that has yet to be announced.
Spread the Vote has a presence in 16 counties throughout the state, according to Calvin. She detailed that while aiding ex-felons who are eligible to vote in 2020 is a priority for her group, helping them obtain ID has benefits outside the voting booth.
“You know, you get out of jail. They don’t give you an ID. But they say, ‘Get a job and don’t go back to your old life.’ But they don’t give you the thing you need to do that,” Calvin said.
And that process which is playing out here in Florida exemplifies the benefits Calvin sees her work providing. The group was founded in 2017 to help ensure those in voter ID states would not be turned away from the polls. But that ID can also be used to help someone find work or buy a house, for example.
Calvin said she soon found that the work wasn’t as simple as helping people get to the DMV to get a driver’s license.
“I was zero percent aware of how hard this was going to be,” Calvin said, referencing the many documents often required just to get your hands on an ID.
“What we do is we help people get all of the documents that they need — birth certificates, social security cards, proofs of residency — all of the things you need to go to the DMV and get an ID.”
The group also helps provide transportation to and from government offices throughout the process. Calvin said Spread the Vote covers any fees it can, within reason. That issue of covering fees may come into play here in Florida, as the Legislature navigates a bill which would require all fees, fines, and restitution to be paid before the restoration of voting rights.
And when it comes time to vote, the organization helps make sure people are registered to vote and also educates prospective voters, who are often first-timers, how to navigate the ballot.
Calvin said an estimated 21 million Americans around the country need ID. Spread the Vote is currently operating in nine states, though Calvin is looking to grow that number to between 15 and 20 states in time for the 2020 election.
Her group is helping more than 100 people per week obtain an ID, according to their numbers. That’s often done through partnerships with local organizations that work with elements of the population most likely to be lacking an ID.
In Florida, those groups which have partnered with Spread the Vote include The Kearney Center in Tallahassee, the Homeless Emergency Project in Pinellas County, and Camillus House in Miami-Dade, among others.
“Most of the time, those institutions don’t have the capacity to help folks get ID’s, but they’re helping with a lot of other services,” Calvin said.
“So we’ll come in and say, ‘Hey I know you’re helping provide food or shelter or whatever. I know your folks need ID’s. Can we come partner and come work to help your clients or your community get those ID’s?’”
That pool of people lacking ID’s includes the homeless as well as domestic violence survivors forced to flee a dangerous situation and leave their documents behind.
“We’re in a lot of areas [which] maybe lost everything in a storm,” Calvin added.
And while she was overwhelmed at the start with the amount of work sometimes required to get an ID in the hands of those who need them, her group has made progress since its inception.
“The more that we did it, the more I realized, ‘Wow, it’s really hard. It’s really complicated.’ Now, we’ve gotten very efficient at it. We’ve got a system. We’ve got tech that we’ve built for this. We’re really, really good at this now.”
While Calvin’s 2020 goal is to be in 15-20 states, the aim for the next decade is to have a presence in all 50.
“One of the things that we’ve gotten pretty clearly is that whether you’re in a voter ID state or not, if you don’t have an ID — and you don’t have a job or housing or security or all these things — you’re not voting,” Calvin said.
“So it’s actually vital to be in all 50 states.”