State Department claims elections law not to blame for drop in Florida voter registration

By | 03.27.12 | 4:24 pm

President Barack Obama aboard Air Force One (Pic by The White House, via Flickr)

The New York Times reports today that Florida’s controversial new voting law has caused numerous third-party voter registration groups to completely suspend their efforts due to onerous new restrictions the law imposes on them.

Already, the Times reports, the state is facing a significant decrease in voter registration numbers in Florida compared to the last presidential election. However, a spokesperson for the Florida State Department tells the newspaper that it is a “leap of logic” to blame the decrease in numbers on the state’s new elections law.

According to an analysis of registration data by Times, “in the months since its new law took effect in July, 81,471 fewer Floridians have registered to vote than during the same period four years ago, in the last run-up to a presidential election.”

The Florida GOP’s 2011 law, which is currently being reviewed by a federal court, overhauled elections rules in the state. The new law has drawn fire from civil rights and voting rights experts and advocates from all over the country. Critics of the law are most concerned with provisions that place prohibitive rules and restrictions on third-party voter registration groups, create a shortened “shelf life” for signatures collected for ballot initiatives, place new restrictions on voters changing their registered addresses on election day, and reduce the number of early voting days.

The measure restricting third-party voter registration has been perhaps the most contested. The new law now requires groups to turn in voter registration forms within 48 hours, while in the past, groups had 10 days to turn them in. There are also steep fines for any group that violates the new rules.

As a result, third-party registration groups, such as Save Dade in Miami, decided to stop holding traditional registration drives. Save Dade, which is a nonpartisan gay rights advocacy group, has had to re-strategize and re-train volunteers in the wake of the new law.

The League of Women Voters, one of the oldest third-party groups in the country, completely stopped its voter registration efforts because of the new rules.

Despite the direct effect the law has had on voter registration efforts in the state, state officials claim the drop in voter registration numbers cannot be blamed on the law.

According to the Times:

Chris Cate, the communications director for Florida’s Department of State, which oversees the state’s elections division, questioned how much of the decline in registrations should be attributed to the new law, noting that four years ago Floridians were registering to vote in both Democratic and Republican presidential primaries, and gearing up for a constitutional amendment about property taxes, which generated interest and enthusiasm. “To suggest the new elections law had a greater impact on voter registration than the election ballot itself is a leap of logic,” Mr. Cate said.

Earlier this month, the United States Department of Justice filed documents with the court panel currently reviewing whether Florida’s elections law affects the voting rights of minorities, claiming that the state did not meet the “burden of proof” for its effort to crack down on voter registration. The DOJ has raised concerns about most of the controversial aspects of Florida’s law.

Florida was only one of many GOP-led states that implemented similarly strict voting laws right before this year’s presidential election. Experts have warned that the slew of strict voter ID laws and prohibitive voter registration rules all over the country will make it harder for already marginalized groups to vote. Women, African-Americans, Latinos, students, low-income voters, the elderly and the disabled are all  poised to face increased barriers, critics of these laws say.

Earlier this month, the Brennan Center for Justice at NYU’s School of Law — one of the foremost nonpartisan public-policy institutes focused on justice and democracy — reported that 70 percent of the 270 electoral votes needed to win the 2012 presidential election will now come from the states with new restrictive voting laws, a statistic that could greatly affect the voter turnout and outcome of the upcoming election.

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