Last May, Florida radically overhauled its election law. In the name of preventing voter fraud, the bill slashed the early voting period nearly in half, shifted many voters to provisional ballots which often are never counted, and invalidated absentee ballots if the voter’s signature did not match official records.
Now, according to the New York Times, the law is already having an impact on voter registration, with the League of Women Voters and Rock the Vote curtailing their efforts in the state. The law also requires third-party groups like those to submit registration cards within 48 hours of signature or pay a fine. Sabu Williams, the head of a local branch of the NAACP, experienced that part of the law firsthand during the past Martin Luther King, Jr. weekend:
Mr. Williams’s group registered two voters on the Sunday of the three-day weekend, and noted the time, as required by the law: 2:15 p.m. and 2:20 p.m. When the local elections office reopened on Tuesday, Jan. 17, the group handed the forms in. They were stamped as received at 3:53 p.m.
This resulted in a warning letter from Florida’s Secretary of State, Kurt S. Browning, who noted that the state can levy fines of $50 for each late application, with an annual cap of $1,000 in fines per group. “In your case, although the supervisor’s office was closed on Monday, Jan. 16, the 48-hour period ended for the two applications on Jan. 17 at 2:15 p.m. and 2:20 p.m.; therefore, the applications were untimely under the law,” Mr. Browning wrote. The letter said that “any future violation of the third-party voter registration law may result in my referral of the matter to the attorney general for an enforcement action.”
Mr. Williams said he could not believe it. “We’re out here trying to register voters, and I’m being threatened for doing it because we missed the time limit by around an hour — and we’re doing it on the first business day they were open!” he said. But he vowed to continue registering voters.
Not everyone, however, will follow suit. The League of Women Voters announced last year that it would halt its efforts in Florida if the bill became law, claiming an “undue burden on groups such as ours that work to register voters.” Heather Smith, Rock the Vote’s president, told the Times that, since high school teachers could be subject to fines under the law, “We just cannot put those high school teachers at risk.” While Gov. Rick Scott (R) said that he was only concerned whether the law “increase[d] the chance for people to stay active,” it is becoming obvious that this bill does the exact opposite.
Since parts of Florida are covered under the Voting Rights Act, the Department of Justice announced earlier this month that it would file a challenge to the law.