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Following the Currents that Guide Florida's Future
Does Florida’s voting law uphold integrity of the vote or suppress voters?
Rich Bard's picture
Rich Bard
Florida lawmakers last year placed new legal limits on early voting, third-party voter registration drives, citizen petition initiatives and voters who’ve changed their address. Lawyers for the state say the changes were intended to fight election fraud. Critics argue the changes will make it harder to vote and unequally affect minority voters, so they’ve filed a bill to repeal the law. Will the resolution of the issue affect this year’s presidential election?
Deirdre Macnab
President, League of Women Voters of Florida

Last summer, almost 16,000 Floridians called and sent emails urging Gov. Rick Scott to veto a regressive new elections bill passed during the 2011 legislative session. Disregarding those messages, the governor signed the legislation and urged immediate and unprecedented implementation of the law.

The new regulations are so troubling to the League of Women Voters of Florida that we have instituted a statewide suspension of voter registration activities. Florida has made tremendous progress since the infamous 2000 election — ensuring a paper trail, investing in new machinery, and creating a statewide electronic voter database — so it is particularly disappointing to see our state go back in time.

Very simply, the law transforms core civic participation — something our government should be encouraging — into a mountain of risk and red tape. For example, the law requires voter registration groups to confront volunteers with a sworn affidavit threatening third-degree felony penalties and possible jail time and fines if voter registration laws are violated. In addition, the law stipulates an unrealistic 48-hour turnaround for registration forms, meaning volunteers could spend more time delivering and tracking completed forms than actually registering voters. This kind of voter suppression law sets up impassable roadblocks for groups like the League and will prevent eligible voters in Florida from becoming part of our democratic process.

Our part-time volunteers simply do not have an attorney on one hand and an administrative assistant on the other to help them navigate these treacherous and complex rules and regulations.  In Santa Rosa and Volusia counties, two public school teachers already have been entrapped by these rules as they tried to help students register to vote.

This law does nothing to make Florida elections more secure. It simply makes it harder to get eligible voters into our democratic process. Florida already has reliable systems and procedures in place to ensure the integrity of our elections, and this law puts new and unnecessary burdens on our elections officials. Indeed, some county supervisors of elections have joined a lawsuit opposing the law.

On the eve of a major national election, Florida should be looking for ways to streamline voting, not creating chaos and confusion for voters and groups that perform voter registration. The bottom line: The new elections law will be difficult to enforce, will cost taxpayer money, and will keep eligible voters out of the democratic process.

Deirdre Macnab is president of the League of Women Voters of Florida.

Rep. Mark Pafford
member, Florida House of Representatives, Democrat, District 88

The 2011 Florida Legislature produced significant damage to the people of Florida’s voting rights with the passage of HB 1355.  Voter suppression may reduce turnout among young, disabled, minority and low-income voters.

The League of Women Voters of Florida and the ACLU have filed a lawsuit in response to third-party registration restrictions.

Florida is currently waiting for a ruling on controversial aspects of its law from a court in the District of Columbia.  Five counties in Florida require federal preclearance of voting laws, per the Voting Rights Act, before the state can begin to implement the new law in those counties.

I have filed an election bill that would restore voting integrity in Florida.  Here are some details of the proposed legislation, known as HB 1189 and referred to the House Government Operations Subcommittee:

-- The 2011 law reduced early voting to eight days. But HB 1189 would restore early voting to 14 days.  It would restore the last Sunday before Election Day for early voting. Otherwise, early voting under the current law would only take place from Saturday to Saturday the week prior to Election Day. This change has a big impact: In 2008, more than half of African-American voters in Florida cast their ballots during early voting. 

-- As it stands now, voters who move from another county and fail to change their address prior to going to their polling location must vote a provisional ballot. Under my proposed legislation, voters would be able to once again complete a change of address affirmation form at the polling station on Election Day and vote using a regular ballot. This process has been available to voters since 1973.

-- Under HB 1189, voter signatures on citizen petition initiatives would be valid for four years (instead of the current two years) because it is difficult to obtain more than 600,000 signatures to get a question on the ballot. 

-- The current law requires anyone who solicits and collects completed voter registration applications to be with a third-party voter registration organization approved by the state (involving lots of paperwork) and must return completed registrations within 48 hours or face a minimum fine of $50 each application. My bill restores the time allowed to return registrations to 10 days.

Rep. Mark Pafford, D-West Palm Beach, represents District 88 in Palm Beach County.

Rich Bard's picture
Rich Bard
Associate Editor

We asked Secretary of State Kurt Browning -- Florida’s top elections official -- to weigh in, but he declined.

To try to communicate the state’s position, I’ve gone through the briefing papers and pulled out these arguments:

Voter registration drives: The law previously imposed a $50 fine for applications received more than 10 days after they were signed. Now the fine is imposed after 48 hours. This was done to ensure applications are properly and timely submitted, and to prevent fraud.

Petition drives: Signatures remain valid for two years, not four, to ensure that such amendments continue to have the people’s support.

Election-day address change: No longer may Floridians vote a regular ballot if they’ve moved to another county and failed to notify the supervisor of elections. Instead, after changing their address, they may cast a provisional ballot that will be counted only after their information is reviewed. This is intended to fight fraud and prevent someone from casting ballots in more than one county.

Early voting: Previously, early voting began 15 days before -- and ended two days before -- an election. Now, it may begin 10 days before and end three days before. However, the law provides for expanded access to early voting in several ways. Most significantly, it mandates additional hours of weekend early voting. It also increases the maximum number of weekday early-voting hours: from 8 to 12, which helps voters working a traditional 8-hour workday.

In conclusion, the state’s petition says: “The State of Florida is entitled to a judgment that the covered changes neither have the purpose, nor will have the effect, of denying or abridging the right to vote on account of race, color, or membership in a language minority under Section 5 of the Voting Rights Act of 1965, amended, and that Florida’s covered jurisdiction may administer these covered changes without further delay.’ 

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