The old Florida capitol (Pic by Diligent Terrier, via Wikimedia Commons)

The Institute for Southern Studies yesterday released a breakdown of the changes to voter registration rules in Florida and how last year’s law has affected the number of registered voters as the presidential elections nears.

As we have reported extensively here at The Florida Independent, Florida lawmakers passed a new voting law last year that critics have warned is a concerted effort to keep minorities, young people, the elderly and the poor from the polls on Election Day.

The law, which contains a slew of controversial measures, has drawn the most fire for provisions that 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.

One of the most contentious provisions, however, is one that places prohibitive rules and restrictions on third-party voter registration groups.

Through the years, the state has sought to crack down on independent voter registration groups due to claims of rampant voter fraud, of which there is little to no evidence. Last year, the state enacted some of the strictest rules for these groups in the country.

Here are some of the stats compiled by the Institute for Southern Studies:

  • Under a new elections law passed by Florida late last year, number of hours groups registering voters have to turn in completed forms or risk fines: 48
  • Penalty for each voter registration application delivered after the 48-hour period: $50
  • Penalty for each voter registration application delivered after the 48-hour period if the delay was found to be “willful”: $250
  • Deadline in days for handing in registration forms under the old law: 10
  • Since the law took effect, number fewer Floridians who have registered to vote than during the same period before the 2008 election: 81,417
  • Percent by which new registrations dropped in Florida’s Orange County since the law took effect: over 20
  • Percent by which new registrations dropped in Miami-Dade County: 39
  • Number of Florida voters registered by the Okaloosa County Branch of the NAACP on the Sunday of this year’s Martin Luther King Jr. three-day holiday weekend: 2
  • When the local elections office reopened on Tuesday, number of minutes after the 48-hour deadline the NAACP handed in the forms, resulting in a warning letter threatening prosecution:98

As a result of these harsh restrictions, many third-party registration groups, such as Save Dade in Miami, decided to stop holding traditional registration drives. Save Dade, 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.

A court in Tallahassee is  currently considering a challenge to the new rules for voter registration created by the law. The League of Women Voters of Florida, Rock the Vote, Florida PIRG and others filed a lawsuit this past December charging that the law “unconstitutionally and unlawfully burdens their efforts, and the efforts of other individuals and community-based groups, to encourage civic engagement and democratic participation by assisting Florida citizens in registering to vote and exercising their fundamental right to vote.”

Due to federal laws in place protecting the voting rights of minorities, a handful of counties in the state must also have new voting laws approved by the federal government. A federal court is currently reviewing Florida’s voting overhaul, although, there are reports that a decision will not be announced before August.

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