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Bill hinders voter registration

Organizations may face significant fines

Opinions Editor

Published: Sunday, September 11, 2011

Updated: Sunday, September 11, 2011 17:09

voting

Photos by Joe Burbank /Orlando Sentinel/MCT

Rev. Jesse Jackson speaks during a two-day tour of the Central Florida I-4 corridor in July to protest the changes in state voting laws passed by the Florida Legislature this year

As many students look toward the elections set to take place next year, one bill passed by the Florida Legislature contains many changes that will affect students' ability to vote.

Florida House Bill 1355, approved by Gov. Rick Scott on May 19, contains a range of significant changes that affect the voting process. Under this bill, organizations registering voters must register with the state of Florida's Division of Elections as a third-party voter registration organization. This includes volunteers who register voters on campus.

Deirdre Macnab, president of the League of Women Voters of Florida, said this legislation increases the burden on these volunteers.

"What this new law does is it imposes a vast bureaucratic tangle of record keeping and steps that need to be now taken by volunteers who in the past have been able to operate and register eligible voters," Macnab said.

The state defines Third Party Voter Registration Organizations as "any person, entity, or organization that solicits or collects any voter registration application." The state provides a caveat, stating that this does not include "a person who seeks only to register to vote or collect a voter registration application from that person's spouse, child or parent."

Harold Hedrick, chairman of the Florida Federation of College Republicans, said this legislation was passed to create fairness in the voting process.

"It's a matter of making it a fairer playing field," Hedrick said. "It isn't meant to segregate against anyone. It isn't meant to not allow anyone to vote."

Orange County Supervisor of Elections Bill Cowles said when the Legislature passed HB 1355, it failed to take into account the Florida Voter Registration System, which tracks a voter's participation in an election. He gives the example of a student who is registered to vote in Fort Lauderdale, votes early there and then comes to UCF for school and attempts to vote here for the same election.

"The Legislature's seeing that as an opportunity where a college student could vote twice, but what they failed to take into consideration is that when that student voted in Ft. Lauderdale, it goes on their statewide record that they already voted in that election," Cowles said.

The bill gives the state the authority to assess a range of fines if third-party organizations make mistakes when registering voters. For example, according to the Division of Elections, a fine of $50 would be assessed if a voter registration application was received more than 48 hours after the applicant delivered the completed application to the third-party registered voter organization or any person, entity or agency acting on its behalf. The highest possible fine for a mistake is $1,000. Macnab said this may discourage groups and individuals from registering voters.

"We think it is going to significantly dampen the numbers of groups that are involved in voter registration, and it has a particular impact on campus groups and student groups and minority groups, because record keeping shows that these are groups that in particular do depend on third-party voter registration organizations," Macnab said.

Many organizations have responded differently to this legislation. For its part, Macnab said that the League of Women Voters is not registering voters at this time. At UCF, the College Democrats are currently not registering voters but plan to do so in the future.

Dominique Gelin, president of the Florida College Democrats, said this bill has had a significant effect on their operations.

"It has already hindered us," Gelin said. "It looks like we might be able to do voter registration again before the end of the year, but even with that, there's a lot of paperwork involved, there are a lot of caveats and there's a lot of risk for people who do want to end up registering voters."

Gelin said they are looking at possible solutions and joining forces with the national Democratic party; they will resume voter registration once they have decided how to proceed.

For more information, visit the Florida Division of Elections website at http://election.dos.state.fl.us/.

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