A new 151-page version of the Florida House of Representatives' elections bill HB 1355 surfaced late last week, making a bad elections bill even worse. The League of Women Voters of Florida, along with other voter groups, is still digesting this massive effort to increase regulations and obstacles for voters, Supervisors of Elections and third-party voter registration groups like the League.
HB 1355 stands to disenfranchise Florida's mobile citizens, including college students and relocating professionals, by disallowing address changes at the polls. The bill will also compromise, and likely eliminate, third-party efforts to register voters, as well as vastly increase the number of provisional ballots used - ballots which are often uncounted due to the amount of time and effort needed to verify each one. When taken as a whole, HB 1355 unduly burdens Supervisors of Elections and third-party voter registration groups and assumes that voters are "guilty until proven innocent."
Despite Florida's well-executed 2008 and 2010 general elections, the legislature is reverting to Jim Crow-style tactics of disenfranchising voters at the polls and suppressing voter registration efforts via bureaucracy and fines. Given that a number of these provisions have already been overturned by the courts, citizens should be outraged over this waste of taxpayer money that will diminish voter registration and voter turnout in our state.
A new provision added last week would now require voters whose legitimacy is challenged by poll watchers to cast provisional ballots with no opportunity at the polls to defend themselves and cast a regular ballot. Provisional ballots are often not counted with election day results and are expensive and time-consuming for Supervisors to process.
Another area of particular concern to the League of Women Voters of Florida is a section that would disallow voters from updating address at their polling place on election day.
Under current law, voters who have moved within the state of Florida are able to update their information at their polling place and still cast a regular ballot. If HB 1355 goes into effect, such voters who have changed counties would have to cast a provisional ballot, creating more work for their Supervisor of Elections, costing Florida's taxpayers more money and resulting in a greater chance that their provisional ballot will never be counted.
This rule will impact Florida's university students in particular, along with other voters who move within Florida but outside their county. What is the point of this rule change, other than to disenfranchise the 1 in 6 citizens who move during any given year?
In addition to voters, now League members and those who volunteer their time to register new voters are not to be trusted either. HB 1355 also targets third-party voter registration groups such as LWVF. Just two years ago, the League of Women Voters of Florida, along with other groups, won a lawsuit to overturn an unfair law aimed at penalizing citizens who perform voter registration drives, including the League's own members.
These volunteers will now need to go down to local Supervisors' offices, register by providing detailed personal information, take an oath and be held personally and financially liable if they do not deliver the completed forms back to the Supervisor within 48 hours. Fines will be levied up to $1,000 per person.
How can we ask volunteers to take on a financial risk of $1,000 and their good name if they are late in returning registration forms? With this proposed law, Florida's leaders have taken aim at voters and the legions of volunteers who have over the past 91 years volunteered their time to register new voters, in the belief that active and informed citizens strengthen our democracy. This law brings back Jim Crow-style tactics to intimidate all Florida voters and volunteers who believe in the democratic process.
The League of Women Voters of Florida, a nonpartisan political organization, encourages informed and active participation in government, works to increase understanding of major public policy issues, and influences public policy through education and advocacy. For more information on the League, visit www.TheFloridaVoter.org.
Macnab is president of the League of Women Voters of Florida. – Ed.