Florida in recent years had made great improvements to its election law that bolstered voter participation and turnout by making it easier for voters to cast their ballot. Unfortunately, provisions of the latest law repeal and reduce a number of these advances.
One of the most troubling changes is the new regulations on third-party voter registration which hamper the ability of nonprofits to conduct voter outreach. The law requires an organization to register with the state and provide the names of its officers and registered agent, as well as the name and address of every person who will be registering voters. The organization must also account for every voter registration form it receives from the supervisor of elections, whether completed or not. While groups used to have 10 days to return completed applications, they now have just 48 hours. Failure to do so results in a $50 late fee per form.
This provision is a major deterrent for nonprofits who would otherwise be able to use their relationships with clients and the community to register and engage eligible voters.
Additionally, the new law reduces the number of early in-person voting days from 14 to 8, severely impacting the low-income and younger populations–often served by nonprofit organizations–who benefit from the increased flexibility.
The League of Women Voters has come out strongly against the law and deemed it “an assault on voters” that “will make it harder for eligible Floridians to be engaged and active in their government.” They also announced that they will no longer register voters in Florida because of the financial risk for volunteers.
The Department of Justice has already been asked to review the bill under the Voting Rights Act of 1965 and lawsuits from various groups have been filed.
Unfortunately, similar laws that would mandate voter ID, eliminate Election Day Registration, and limit voters’ options are being considered (and passed) across the country. While proponents of such legislation argue that it is necessary to protect against voter fraud, Florida Secretary of State Kurt Browning was forced to “acknowledge that there is little voter fraud in the state,”–a statement that rings true across the nation.
The new Florida law is part of a worrisome and often expensive trend that is adversely affecting low-income, minority, and mobile populations–the individuals most likely to be served by nonprofits. We should be focusing on how to encourage full participation among eligible voters, not finding ways to limit where, when, how, and who can vote.