With the Primary Election just one month away and the General Election looming, several current and former elected officials — including two competing for the governorship — are convening in South Florida to discuss community and civic engagement and how to boost voter turnout among Black and progressive voters this year.
The “Stay Woke Go Vote” panel discussion will be held at 10 a.m. Saturday at Manifest Church in West Palm Beach. It’s free and open to the public.
Participants include U.S. Reps. Charlie Crist and Shiela Cherfilus-McCormick, Agriculture Commissioner Nikki Fried, state Sen. Bobby Powell Jr., state Rep. Jervonte Edmonds, former Westlake Vice Mayor Katrina Long-Robinson and Palm Beach Democratic Black Caucus President Tennille Decoste.
Black state lawmakers in South Florida launched the “Stay Woke Go Vote” campaign this May in collaboration with Equal Ground, Faith in Florida, the NAACP and National Council of Negro Women as part of a push to increase Black voter turnout in the 2022 election despite legislation from Republican-controlled Legislature that added barriers to their participation.
That included a law creating an election police force, another that opponents condemned as making it harder to vote by mail, use a drop box and register to vote, and Gov. Ron DeSantis’ new congressional map, which critics say eliminated two of the state’s Black-performing districts.
“Too often we’ve worked in silos when it comes to engaging and turning out Black voters,” Equal Ground Political Director Genesis Robinson told the Miami Times in May. “This is just an attempt for state legislators to work with Black-led organizations and individuals who desire to see an increase in civic participation from the Black community.”
DeSantis has made his opposition to what he terms “woke” policies and “indoctrination” a key part of his recent legislative agenda, and it’s helped him win national attention from conservatives and conservative media outlets. The agenda has included new laws and policies designed to block the teaching of critical race theory in classrooms.
He pushed for many of the recent election law changes, including SB 90, which barred volunteers from collecting mail-in ballots from nonfamily members, imposed new restrictions on drop boxes, set up new requirements for groups registering to vote and limited “line-warming” activities outside of polling places.
Voting rights and civil rights groups challenged SB 90 and won the first round in court when U.S. District Judge Mark Walker concluded in late March the law intentionally discriminated against minority voters. Judge Walker blocked several provisions. But last Friday, a federal appeals court stayed Walker’s ruling — meaning the changes made by SB90 will likely be in effect for this year’s election.
Meanwhile, there are also legal challenges pending against the new congressional map drafted by the Governor’s Office and adopted by legislators during an April Special Session. That map is projected to increase the number of Republicans holding congressional seats in Florida in part by breaking apart the North Florida congressional seat held by U.S. Rep. Al Lawson, a Black Democrat.
With Democrats trailing Republicans among active Florida voters for the first time in modern history, several other initiatives like Operation BlackOut — whose founder, Miami Gardens Sen. Shevrin Jones, is among the leaders behind “Stay Woke Go Vote” — are also underway bring Black and Brown progressive back to the voting booth.
A minor shift in voter turnout this year could have a massive effect across the ballot. Take Broward County, just 61% of the 1.1 million voters there cast ballots the last Midterm Election. A 2% uptick in participation this election would translate into 95,450 more votes — nearly three times the margin by which DeSantis won office in 2018.
Unseating DeSantis by improving minority voter participation appears to be sufficient reason for Crist and Fried to put aside their differences to again share a stage less than 48 hours after they engaged in a contentious, televised debate.
In anticipation of Saturday’s event, Crist said, “Black Floridians deserve nothing less than a Governor who fights for them and ensures their voices are fully represented in Tallahassee — and that’s what today’s event is all about. I look forward to working alongside strong leaders and friends, like Sen. Bobby Powell, to talk about the issues directly impacting Black families and what we need to do as public servants to be allies to the Black community.”
Fried took aim at voter suppression, saying, “Voting rights are under attack, and majority Black districts have been erased under the DeSantis administration. I’m looking forward to talking about how we can turn energy and ideas into action in order to win in November, and keep our elections free and fair.”
Florida politics contacted Long-Robinson, Cherfilus-McCormick and Powell for comment but received no response by press time.
To keep up with “Stay Woke Go Vote,” text “STAYWOKE” to 52886.
Anne Geggis and Christine Jordan Sexton of Florida Politics contributed to this report.