In a surprise to voting rights advocates who feared a veto, Florida Governor Rick Scott signed a bill into law Friday morning that will set up an online voter registration system by 2017. But he said he did so “with some hesitation” and “some concerns.”
“Cyber attacks are on the front pages almost every day, and fraud and identification theft issues arise whenever a new avenue for information transmittal is created,” he wrote, while expressing confidence his agencies could rise to the challenge.
Only two states, Arizona and Washington, offered online voter registration when President Obama took office in 2008. Now, today’s signing puts Florida in line with nearly two dozen other statess and District of Columbia in offering its residents the option, a change that has been found to especially benefit young voters, who are the most likely to have Internet access but the least likely to be registered. Voting rights advocates have cited it as a key step to reaching the more than 50 million eligible Americans who are not registered.
Friday’s move is a sharp departure from Florida’s record of passed laws over the past few years of making voter registration more difficult. Gov. Rick Scott signed a bill in 2011 cracking down on voter registration drives conducted by groups like the League of Women Voters and Rock the Vote. A year after the law went into effect, voter registrations plummeted. Scott also oversaw multiple controversial voter purges in 2012 and 2013 that disenfranchised eligible voters and was later ruled illegal. The Governor also reduced the number of early voting days, which exacerbated the massive lines on Election Day.
These laws were so unpopular that Scott later signed a law undoing some of the damage, which restored some early voting days, particularly the Sunday before Election Day that has long been a day black churches have organized around voter turnout.
Bills for online voter registration are currently advancing in Massachusetts, Hawaii, West Virginia, and Nebraska, but some Republican-controlled states are rejecting the option.
In Texas, a bill to allow online voter registration recently died in committee after Republican officials in Harris County rallied in opposition, claiming the move would increase voter fraud despite evidence it is more secure than paper systems. Texas lawmakers are also moving to make their strict and possibly unconstitutional voter ID bill even stricter.
And in Ohio, repeated attempts to pass online voter registration have been stymied in the Republican-controlled legislature. The state, meanwhile, is attempting to pass a bill to require residents to pay a fee in order to obtain the kind of ID they need to vote. Only residents who make less than $12,000 a year would be exempt. The state is also battling lawsuits from student groups and Democratic operatives alleging it has moved to suppress the voting rights of “hundreds of thousands of Ohioans.”