By Joe Crews
For Hometown News
When you think of the American Civil Liberties Union and Republican elected officials, the former giving an award to the latter doesn't immediately spring to mind.
But that will be the case on Saturday, March 30, when the ACLU's Volusia-Flagler Chapter presents Volusia County Supervisor of Elections Ann McFall, a Republican, with its Bob Stevenson Award.
The award will be presented to Ms. McFall at the chapter's 10th annual meeting and dinner at the Grant Bly House in DeLand, and recognizes "her courage in standing up against the voter purge and voter suppression laws this past year."
"Ann McFall was outspoken about the bottleneck Gov. Scott had created by cutting early voting to one week instead of two," said Reinhold Schlieper, the chapter's vice president. "She also spoke out about not being notified when civil rights are restored. She has been very clear-minded about voting rights."
For Ms. McFall and her family, the award came as a big surprise.
"They all can't believe it," she said. "I am surprised. I haven't had much support from the ACLU in past campaigns, even when I was a Democrat on the Volusia County School Board. (But) it's an honor to receive this, it really is."
Ms. McFall believes she is "representing most of the people out there. Most of them think the restrictions went too far."
She's hopeful this year's legislative session, which began earlier this month, will result in more days for early voting and the ability to set up more early voting sites.
Ms. McFall garnered national attention during 2011 and 2012, appearing on such programs as The Rachel Maddow Show on MSNBC and The Daily Show with Jon Stewart on Comedy Central to discuss the various voting restrictions proposed by the governor or enacted by the Legislature.
Last June, for instance, Ms. Maddow interviewed Ms. McFall about the efforts of Gov. Rick Scott's administration to purge voter rolls of non-U.S. citizens as part of a campaign to curb illegal voting, which critics said was a minor problem at best.
State officials last May presented local supervisors of election with a list of names that were to be purged. But the supervisors found the list was riddled with errors, in many cases listing registered voters who were, indeed, U.S. citizens.
Of the nearly 2,700 names on the purge list, 15 were in Volusia County, Ms. McFall said. When she contacted the first two people, one was in the military serving overseas and the other proved she was, and always has been, a U.S. citizen, Ms. McFall said.
"So it looked like the list was bogus, if you will. It was outdated," she told Ms. Maddow. "I just quietly put the list aside."
Ms. Maddow asked how the state association of election supervisors was reacting to the governor's actions.
"Florida statutes state that maintaining the voter lists is done in odd-numbered years, and we did that," Ms. McFall told the show's host. "Then, at the 11th hour, this is thrown into the laps of 67 elections supervisors."
At a conference of the statewide association, she discovered other supervisors were having similar problems. They all agreed not to conduct any purges because, as one supervisor told the Palm Beach Post, "there are too many variables ... at this time for the supervisors to continue."
"The (National Voting Registration Act) says we cannot, except in a few very limited circumstances, change a voter registration within 90 days of a federal election," Ms. McFall said. "We just can't do it. It's against the law."
Ms. Maddow said Ms. McFall, and by extension all 67 supervisors, was "a firewall in your job. That's what it comes down to."
Ms. McFall is the third recipient of the Bob Stevenson Award, which is named for a longtime member and recognizes individuals for meritorious service in the advancement of civil rights, Mr. Schlieper said.
Mr. Stevenson, who received the first award two years ago, is retired but continues to counsel prisoners at the Volusia County Branch Jail and is still active with the Center for Free Inquiry, Mr. Schlieper said.
Last year, the award went to County Councilman Josh Wagner, a Democrat who campaigned hard for the creation of a domestic partner registry in Volusia County, Mr. Schlieper said.
The plan is to make the award an annual tradition, he added.
At Saturday's meeting and dinner, members also "will be toasting a year of accomplishments in defense of liberty and hearing firsthand from former ACLU of Florida Board President Jeanne Baker about how we can prepare for the civil liberties battles ahead," according to a news release. The event starts at 6 p.m. at the Grant Bly House, 842 E. New York Ave. in DeLand.