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East Bay Volunteers Trek To Florida to Ensure Fair Vote

Friday July 02, 2004

Nothing can stop a group of determined Berkeley volunteers this summer, not even engine failure, monsoon season, or long hours in the hot, humid, sun. Not when the election is on the line. 

Stand Up! Florida (SUP), an East Bay group of 15 or 20 volunteers, many from Berkeley, are kicking off a summer campaign to ensure voters in Northern Florida do not suffer through the same kind of treatment that left thousands disenfranchised in the 2000 election. 

A federally registered political action committee, SUP has spent the past weeks sitting in front of community stores and going door to door, mostly in towns of 4,000-6,000 people, to register and educate voters about their rights in an important swing state that may once again play a critical role in an evenly divided presidential election. 

SUP representatives say they have chosen Florida towns and counties with large African American populations because it was black Florida voters who were most severely affected in 2000 during purges when thousands were turned away—or kept away—from the polls. SUP representatives will be in these communities all summer, until Oct. 4, the last day to register to vote. Some will be back for the November election. 

“We said, we are going to put our money where our mouth is and make sure [2000] doesn’t happen again,” said Aaron Rosenfield, an Oakland resident. 

For the past three weeks, group members said it’s been a rollercoaster of success and failure. After raising $2,500 dollars last weekend at a Berkeley fundraiser, SUP had to sink almost all of it into one of their cars in Florida because the engine blew up. At the same time, members said that almost every day they are able to register several people or help convince others about the importance of the election. 

“There are a lot of people who don’t trust the system,” said Erin Brandt, a peace and conflict resolution major at UC Berkeley and a Florida native. “They have other problems to deal with and it’s hard for them to make this a priority. They don’t trust the system because of the last election.” 

Co-founded by Rosenfield and Jeremy Bled, Stand Up! Florida was tossed around as an idea for a couple of years following the 2000 election, but came to fruition when Rosenfield and Bled were joined by other volunteers who agreed that targeting Florida for voter registration and education was one of the most direct ways to ensure a fair election. 

Kimia Mizany, who signed on a couple of months ago, said she became involved because she knew California will probably go to the Democrats, and voter initiative groups are in abundance. 

“[SUP] saw Florida as a unique place to operate, they thought it was very likely to be in the spotlight again,” said Mizany. “They wanted to operate in the place where they could be most effective, get your biggest bang for your buck.” 

Besides voter education and registration, SUP is also part of fight to challenge the state’s felon list, which many say was used to purge the voter rolls in the 2000 election. Investigations have shown that large numbers of citizens—mostly African American—were illegally kept from voting because they were mistakenly put on the list, which is 47,000 people long. 

“The felon’s list works in that you are guilty until proven innocent,” said Rosenfield. “If you are on the list you have to go to the supervisor of elections and prove your innocence. You should not have to prove your innocence in this country, but [in Florida] you do.”