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Tampa's Arthenia Joyner, Mike Suarez sign on to ACLU lawsuit challenging Trump election commission



Two Tampa politicians are part of a new American Civil Liberties Union of Florida lawsuit challenging President Donald Trump’s Presidential Advisory Commission on Election Integrity.

Former Florida Senate Minority Leader Arthenia Joyner and Tampa City Council member Mike Suarez, both Democrats, are among seven plaintiffs who filed the suit in federal court in Miami and are the only two from outside South Florida. The other plaintiffs include a Broward County activist, a South Florida longshoreman's union official, a Miami attorney who has chaired that city's community relations and police review boards, the nonprofit Florida Immigrant Coalition and the ACLU.

Monday’s lawsuit is the latest in a series of challenges to the commission’s request that every state send it information about voters, including the full names of registered voters, dates of birth, party registration, the last four digits of Social Security numbers and voting history. Trump has made repeated claims about massive voter fraud and election-rigging in the 2016 elections, assertions that PolitiFact, the political fact-checking arm of the Tampa Bay Times, has examined and found to be false on more than a half-dozen occasions.

Both Joyner and Suarez, according to the suit, oppose “the dissemination, collection and potential distribution” of voter IDs and information.

“I’ve always been concerned (including) as a legislator, about voters’ rights and integrity,” Joyner said. Joining the ACLU in the lawsuit is “a natural outgrowth of work that I’ve done over the years.”

Growing up in Tampa, Joyner took part in sit-ins as a high school student. When no firm would hire her after she finished law school, she opened her own practice, was the first black woman to practice law in Hillsborough County and is the longest-practicing African-American female attorney in Florida history. She was the first black woman to lead the state Senate’s Democratic caucus and is one of three current or former Democratic lawmakers on the mostly Republican state Constitutional Revision Commission.

Joyner said she is concerned that the commission’s “unprecedented” work could disenfranchise some voters, interfere with what should be an “unfettered right to vote” and expose many voters to identity theft through the unauthorized disclosure of personal information.

“I was blown away by the creation of this commission and the audacity of the president to think that he should have a national database of every registered voter with personal information, which could lead to fraudulent activities,” she said. “We’re exposing millions of Americans to possible identity theft and other illegals uses of their ID.”

Suarez, the suit notes, is suing in his individual capacity as a resident and voter of Hillsborough County.

"I really did feel strongly about it that somebody had to step to the plate and take the stand that this is bad for all citizens of Florida," he said. He said he agreed to take part in the case after being contacted by one of the attorneys involved. Going in, it was his understanding that the case would include a couple of Republican plaintiffs, too, but they withdrew just before the lawsuit was filed. That's unfortunate, he said, because he does not see the matter as a partisan issue.

States and counties control elections, Suarez said, and having a national voters database is an "overreach" by the commission that "makes no sense and is against the Constitution in my mind."

In response to the commission’s request, Florida Secretary of State Ken Detzner said the state would only send the commission information that is already available to the public. He said the responsibility for "the accuracy and fairness of our election process in Florida lies with us, not with the federal government in Washington D.C."

"Florida will absolutely not provide any information that is not already available to the public," Detzner said in a statement after the lawsuit was filed. "The security of Floridians' personal information is very important and that is why we will only be sharing information that is already public record. ... This information is already regularly given out to anyone who makes a public records request to the Department of State as required by Florida law."

The ACLU’s lawsuit asks a court to stop the state from doing anything until the case is resolved.

Information from the Associated Press is included in this report.

[Last modified: Wednesday, July 12, 2017 4:13pm]


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