Election laws hinder voter registration
Published: Wednesday, May 16, 2012
Updated: Wednesday, May 16, 2012 15:05
State governments across the country have been keeping busy enacting a range of new election laws that make it harder to vote and harder for people to register to vote. It was not until one year ago that the Florida House of Representatives passed a historic piece of legislation called HB 1355. What made the bill historic was the fact that the entire dynamic of Florida’s democratic process could be mangled by one Republican-dominated legislature.
HB 1355 is a very broad and vague law. This law makes it harder to vote by limiting the early voting period from 15 days to eight days. It also removes a 40-year-old policy that allows voters to change their addresses at the polls. According to the Tampa Bay Times, Orange County Supervisor of Elections Bill Cowles said that in 2008, more than 8,000 Orange County voters updated their addresses at the polls on Election Day.
The law sets up an insurmountable roadblock for ordinary Floridians who want to do something as simple as volunteer an hour of their time to register new voters. This law has made it so much more restrictive to register Floridians that even large organizations such as Rock the Vote and the League of Women Voters have ceased voter registration operations in the state entirely — not in protest, but because of what the Republican-drafted bill threatens its volunteers with.
Organizations that register voters, even those as small as college groups, must now get filed with the state as “Third Party Registration Organizations” if they wish to register even a single voter. Along with this government mandate, the organization must report every month the number of voter registration forms given to its volunteers, the number of blank forms that were returned and the number of non-blank forms received from its volunteers. Before anyone can begin to register voters, the volunteers must sign an intimidating sworn statement, repeated twice on a single-page document, that affirms they “understand penalties for false registration may include a term of imprisonment up to five years and a fine up to $5,000,” along with a third-degree felony. The organization is now also tasked with turning in its voter registration forms back to the Supervisor of Elections Office within 48 hours, instead of the seven days it used to have. The nearest one to UCF is more than 18 miles away, with tolls.
In an interview with NPR, University of Florida political scientist Daniel Smith said that this law is already a big problem, judging by the number of people who are registering to vote.
“What we’ve seen very clearly is that there’s been a drop-off in new registrations across the state of Florida,” Smith said. “And that indicates that these groups like the League of Women Voters, the Boy Scouts and others that have engaged in voter registration in past years that are not doing so have had an effect. We have less younger people registering to vote in the state of Florida.”
According to The New York Times, in the first eight months the law was in effect, there were 81,471 fewer new voters registered when compared with the same period four years earlier.
And all of it was done in the name of voter fraud, signed into law by Gov. Rick Scott, a Republican.
This is where I will finally beg the question — how could any of these intimidating government regulations stop voter fraud? I have yet to come across one statement from the sponsors of the bill that explains how in any shape or way this connects to that issue.
Then again, perhaps it was not meant to. Cowles said that because Florida has a centralized voter registration database that is both accurate and reliable, claims and fears of voter fraud are unfounded. Unsurprisingly, these new restrictions fall most heavily on young, minority, and low-income voters, as well as on voters with disabilities — groups that you can bet your money on won’t be turning out for Republicans in the polls.