Florida’s new elections rules “appear to be a step backward in protecting the right to vote for citizens of the Sunshine State,” writes former Gov. Charlie Crist in a column published in today’s Tampa Bay Times.

Crist specifically criticizes the new law’s restrictions on third-party voter registration, writing:

Under the new laws, third-party groups who fail to file new registration forms with the supervisor of elections within 48 hours of collection face stiff fines. As a result, groups such as the League of Women Voters and Rock the Vote have decided to suspend their registration drives in Florida for fear that compliance with the new laws is too difficult. These groups have a long history in Florida of getting the people involved in participating in the electoral process through registration drives.

Good government begins with the voter, and creating barriers to voter registration or access to the polls is contrary to our democratic ideals. The right to vote is sacred, and people have fought and died to protect it. I believe government should ensure the maximum number of people should be allowed to participate in the electoral process.

Florida’s lawmakers cite voter fraud concerns as the reason for the new restriction on third-party voter registration drives. While I have seen no evidence of rampant voter fraud, it is no doubt a serious matter and can serve to reduce confidence in the electoral process. Those who commit such a crime should be prosecuted and punished. However, imposing stiff penalties on those who are trying to promote participation in the electoral process in good faith will most assuredly reduce confidence in the electoral process.

As The Florida Independent’s Travis Pillow reported during debate over the bill in the middle of the 2011 state legislative session, supporters of the elections law could not point to evidence of systematic voter fraud that the new rules would eliminate. Then-Secretary of State Kurt Browning also defended the integrity of Florida’s election systems as the bill was being debated.

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