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Registration law deters voters

By Ernest Duffoo
On October 8, 2012

Erik Range, a graduate political science student, stood under a tree by the Student Union holding a clipboard asking students if they had registered to vote.

A professor approached him and handed him a bottle of water, thanking him for his activism.

When I see efforts to hinder folks from being able to vote, I take it personally, so here I am, Range said.

Fewer Floridians and college students will have a chance to cast their votes due to a law passed by Gov. Rick Scott.

On May 19, 2011, Scott signed 158-page Florida House Bill 1355, creating controversial restrictions that have been widely criticized by Democrats. The provisions affect voter registration drives, early voting days and address changes, among other things.

In the months following the bills passage, the battleground state saw more than 80,000 fewer registrations compared with the same period in the 2008 election, according to analysis of registration data by The New York Times.

One particular provision in the bill directly affects many students at UCF. In 2008, voters could change their addresses at the polls, solving the problem for students who had initially registered with their parents addresses but wished to vote while studying elsewhere. Under HB 1355, unless the address change is within the same county, voters with addresses outside of the county will not be able to vote there. If such address changes are not made by Tuesday, many students will find themselves unable to vote on Nov. 6.

HB 1355 threatened voter registration groups with fines of up to $1,000 per person if voter registration applications were not delivered to the supervisor of elections within 48 hours of being signed.

Ann Hellmuth, president of the League of Women Voters of Orange County, a nonpartisan political organization encouraging participation, spoke to journalism students about these pressing issues Wednesday afternoon. While it has been working nonstop to make up for the year the lawsuits were going on, the league will not be coming anywhere near where it was with registrations in 2008, Hellmuth said.

I think my brains got fried from standing out in the sun too much saying, Are you registered to vote? Have you changed your address? Hellmuth said.

The LWV of Florida stopped registering voters when the bill passed. It challenged the law in court and did not resume registration until May of this year when a federal judge issued a temporary ban on the 48-hour provision. The ban was made permanent on Aug. 30 and applications can now be turned in up to 10 days after being signed.

HB 1355 reduces early voting days from 15 to seven days and mandates two Saturdays, eliminating early voting on the Sunday before the election. In 2008, 33.2 percent of those who voted early on the last Sunday before Election Day were African-American, while 23.6 percent were Hispanic, U.S. Rep. Corrine Brown (D-Fla.) said. The numbers reflect African-American churches, whose members make an event out of the Sunday before the election. These parishes bus their members to the polls, known as Souls to the Polls.

Early voting is expected to account for as much as 40 percent of all voters this year. According to studies by the Pew Research Center in September, young Democrats are less engaged than they were in 2008.

The ballot will have 11 constitutional amendments, but many students, like AnnMarie Henry, did not know there were such important issues on the ballot. Henry, a senior interdisciplinary studies major, said she didnt know amendments opting Florida out of federal health care reform requirements and allotting public money to private religious institutions were on the ballot. The urgency of the registration date should be more visible on campus, Henry said.

Olivia Khayat, a senior studying marketing, said she was approached often, but the marketing tactics were not good enough. Its difficult to get students attention on campus because theyre all busy trying to get to class. Instead, voter registration groups should pass out simple instructions for students to register on their own time, Khayat said.

A yes vote on Amendment 6 would prohibit public funding of abortion and restrict privacy rights with regards to abortion. Richard Hoffmann, a junior emerging media student, knows abortion doesnt directly affect him, but he still thinks its important to have an informed opinion when heading into the polls.

I still have to take it into consideration because I think about other people too. I talk to my mom, my sisters, my friends; I see how they feel about it because every vote counts, Hoffmann said.

Just recently, Scott and Republican Florida Secretary of State Ken Detzner have come under fire for a controversial voter purge, after a list of 2,700 possible noncitizens was sent to county election supervisors for verification. According to a Miami Herald analysis, 87 percent of the people on the list are minorities, with 58 percent being Hispanic. In Miami-Dade, more than 98 percent of 562people on the list who responded to notice letters proved they were eligible citizens.

Republicans are asking that voters show up to the polls and oust three state Supreme Court justices, an effort that is being widely criticized for its implications for the courts impartiality. This effort, branded judicial activism, would give Scott an opportunity to appoint three judges if successful.

The Republican National Committee is now under attack for paying Strategic Allied Consulting an amount between $500,000 and $3 million. Strategic Allied Consulting has been dubbed the GOPs ACORN due to claims of voter fraud in at least 10 counties. The Republican National Committee severed its ties to the firm last Thursday. It had hired it to conduct voter registration drives in five states, Florida included.

Rick Morris, a senior studying anthropology, isnt too surprised to hear about these sorts of tactics. Hes grown wary of both sides and their political games, he said.

Whenever I hear something new about whats being done in politics and tactics that are being used, I just assume the other side hasnt been caught yet, Morris said.

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