Last July, a Florida voter suppression law — enacted by the state legislature’s Republican majority and signed by Gov. Rick Scott (R) — went into effect, putting major new restrictions on groups who work to register new voters. HB 1355 imposed harsh new restrictions on third-party voter registration groups, requiring them to turn in completed registration forms 48 hours — to the minute — after completion, or face fines. Though the bill was put on hold in late May by a federal judge, a new report shows the damage was done: Democratic voter registration in Florida ground to a virtual standstill.
In blocking the new law, U.S. District Judge Robert Hinkle wrote that HB 1355 would “impose burdensome record-keeping and reporting requirements that serve little if any purpose, thus rendering them unconstitutional even to the extent they do not violate the [National Voter Registration Act].” He granted an injunction, he wrote, because the bill could cause “irreparable harm.” When a voter-participation group “loses an opportunity to register a voter,” he noted, “the opportunity is gone forever.”
That lost opportunity over 11 months had a significant effect. The Florida Times-Union reports that over the 13-months period beginning July 1 of the year before elections in 2004 and 2008, the number of registered Democrats in Florida increased by an average of 209,425 voters. Since July 1, 2011 — the HB 1355 went into effect — that number was just 11,365:
Groups said the new rules made it impossible to comply. As a result, many got out of the registration game until a federal judge ruled in their favor at the end of May, 11 months later.
“It has without a doubt hurt registration numbers,” said Deirdre Macnab, president of the nonpartisan League of Women Voters of Florida. “It really gummed up the works and made it harder for Floridians to get registered.”
Macnab notes that the rule may have disproportionately hurt Democratic registration as groups often target areas that lean Democratic — “college campuses, senior centers and low-income communities.”
Even with court intervention to stop apparently illegal voter suppression efforts like HB 1355, reports like this expose the “irreparable harm” already done to American democracy.