Voting restrictions not student-friendly
Published: Sunday, January 15, 2012
Updated: Sunday, January 15, 2012 20:01
Over the last decade, several elections in Florida were nearly too close to call and riddled with controversy. In 2010, Gov. Rick Scott won by a single percentage point, President Barack Obama beat rival John McCain by a mere 2.5 percent in 2008, and no one can forget the dead heat between George W. Bush and Al Gore in 2000.
Florida's recent history of disputed elections spurred the enactment of House Bill 1355, a new law that places significant restrictions on voters, especially college students. State lawmakers, many of them Republicans, support the law as an effort to curb voter fraud. Yet many student groups across the state are outraged at what they see as an unfair restraint on the youth vote.
For instance, voter registration groups like Rock the Vote have suspended their voter registration activities because of a provision in the new law that requires groups to submit registration forms to county voting supervisors within 48 hours of completion, according to The Palm Beach Post. Anna Eskamani, vice president of the College Democrats at UCF, said her organization is the only one at UCF approved to actively register student voters. She said current registration numbers pale in comparison to the 11,000 UCF students who were registered to vote by student organizations in 2008.
A combination of two other provisions in the new voting law discriminates against college students who are already registered to vote. The number of early voting days has been reduced from 14 to eight, and voters must update their registration if they move from one county to another. In the past, voters could change their address at the polls, even on Election Day. This made it easy for students who moved to Orange County to attend UCF to easily update their registration and still see their vote counted. Now those who fail to update their address must cast a provisional ballot that could end up discarded.
Despite the closeness of Florida's elections in recent memory, voter fraud is not really a cause for deep concern. The Florida Department of State referred just 31 cases of alleged voter fraud to the Department of Law Enforcement in the past three years, according to The New York Times.
The impact of these controversial provisions in the new voting law is planned to be reviewed at a Jan. 27 field hearing in Tampa at the behest of Democratic Senators Dick Durbin of Illinois and Bill Nelson of Florida, according to the Orlando Sentinel.
Considering that Florida is a powerful swing state and that the UCF vote alone can decide the coveted I-4 corridor, our state must ensure its elections are fair to all voters.