The New York Times, below, reported this morning on how an elections bill the Florida Legislature passed yesterday would make it more difficult for voters, especially Democrats, to cast their ballots in the 2012 races. I have asked the Justice Department to investigate whether this bill will result in voter suppression.
Meantime, the bill is on its way to Gov. Rick Scott. Click here to send him a message: Please veto CS/CS/HB 1355.
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The New York Times
May 5, 2011
Florida Passes Bill to Limit 3rd-Party Voter Registration
By LIZETTE ALVAREZ
MIAMI -- With an eye on next year's presidential election, the Florida Legislature passed a bill on Thursday that would tighten the rules on third-party voter registration and limit the number of days early voting can take place, an effort that Democrats portrayed as blatant voter suppression.
The legislation, which Republican leaders said was needed to curb fraud, save money and ensure a more orderly process, will now go to Gov. Rick Scott for his signature.
"We have come a long way since the 2000 elections," said Senator Miguel Diaz de la Portilla, a Miami Republican who sponsored the bill, referring to Florida's central role in the disputed presidential tally. "This bill makes the process better, clearer, more transparent, more accessible. It enfranchises voters."
But Democrats accused Republicans of trying to make it more difficult for voters -- particularly Democrats -- to cast their ballots and said the bill was unnecessary because reforms put in place after 2000 have largely been successful. Fraud, they said, is minimal: the Florida Department of State referred 31 cases of alleged voter fraud to the Department of Law Enforcement in the past three years.
United States Senator Bill Nelson, a Florida Democrat who opposes the bill, said Thursday in a letter to Mr. Scott that he planned to seek a Justice Department inquiry because major changes in election law in several counties require federal approval.
By requiring third-party groups to submit voter registration forms to the state within just 48 hours or risk fines, the bill would dampen the enthusiasm of volunteers, voter advocacy groups said. On Thursday, the president of the Florida League of Women Voters said her organization would most likely stop registering voters because she could not ask volunteers to assume that risk. "It's a huge step backward for the state of Florida," said Deirdre Macnab, the league's president. "If these series of ideas become law it will be a vast new way to suppress voter registration and turnout just in time for the 2012 election."
The legislation would also shorten the early voting period to 8 days from 14. Early voting would shut down three days before an election. In Florida, early voting has a decidedly Democratic tilt.
People who move from county to county -- like college students -- would also face greater difficulty voting. Today, registered voters can change their address at a polling station. The bill would disallow on-the-spot address changes, which are routinely checked through a database.
"We should be making it more convenient for people to vote and not more problematic," said Robert Brandon, the president of the Fair Elections Legal Network.
But State Senator Don Gaetz, a Republican from North Florida, said, "There is a desire to make sure we don't have fraud and the kinds of mistakes that lead to embarrassment to our state."