Florida’s New Law a Major Step Backwards for Voting Rights
Last week, Governor Rick Scott of Florida signed a bill (HB 1355/S 2086) that will make it next to impossible for groups like Project Vote’s Voting for America and the League of Women Voters to conduct voter registration drives in the state.
Requiring complicated, onerous filings and record-keeping, and imposing stiff fines and civil penalties for applications turned in “late” (more than 48 hours after signing), the law has prompted the League of Women Voters of Florida to announce it has put on hold its plans to register voters in the state.
And no wonder: the law requires an organization to register with the state, providing the names of its officers and registered agent, and the name and address of every person who will be registering voters. The organization must account for every voter registration form it receives from the supervisor of elections, whether completed or not, and all completed forms must be turned in no more than 48 hours after the applicant completes it. Fines for failure to meet the deadline range from $100 per late application submitted to $1000 per application if the organization is determined to have acted “willfully.”
Any nonprofit organization contemplating a voter registration drive—including church groups, ethnic heritage groups, and disability advocacy organizations—would certainly have to think twice before subjecting itself and its limited resources to such risks.
In addition to the law’s regressive provisions impeding registration drives, it will also cut in half Florida’s wildly successful early voting period, which has proven particularly beneficial to elderly and minority voters in recent elections. And the law will eliminate entirely another Florida election innovation popular with election officials of both political parties. “Permanent portable” registration allows a Florida voter to update her address or other registration information at any time up to and including Election Day. It works well, has caused no security problems, and curtails the usual last-minute surge of administrative changes at election offices. But that didn’t stop the shortsighted sponsors of this sweeping election bill—or the Governor—from getting rid of it.
For many election cycles, Florida had a well-deserved reputation as the worst state in the nation as far as voting rights were concerned. The state had been making some progress in the last few years, but the bill Governor Scott signed is a major step backwards for Florida voters.
Learn more about the issues facing voter registration drives here.