Suppressing the Vote in Florida
Published: April 18, 2009
Since 2000, Florida has been synonymous with badly run and undemocratic elections. This distinction has not come to it by chance. Many of the state’s election officials and legislators work hard to keep eligible voters from casting ballots. The Florida Legislature is at it again, threatening to pass new rules that would make it harder for eligible voters, especially those from minorities and those who are poor, to register and vote.
Republican state legislators, who are behind the latest bills, want to make it illegal for anyone to get within 100 feet of a line of voters. That provision would criminalize election protection programs, in which nonpartisan volunteers make themselves available outside of polling places on Election Day to ensure that eligible voters know their legal rights and are able to cast ballots.
The legislation would also impose onerous and unnecessary rules on voter registration drives, including a requirement that registration forms must be turned in within 48 hours. Grass-roots voter registration drives play an important role in getting poor and minority voters registered. If this legislation passes, however, many groups may stop registering voters rather than risk jail sentences or fines.
The elderly, a sizable voting bloc in Florida, would also be hard hit. They would no longer be able to use photo IDs issued by retirement centers or neighborhood associations at the polls. That would be a serious hardship for the many elderly people who do not have driver’s licenses.
Another provision would require election officials to purge voting rolls more frequently, a sore point in Florida, where an improper purge of the rolls before the 2000 election removed many eligible voters.
Republican leaders seem to be trying to push the legislation through quickly, with a minimum of public attention or comment. If they succeed, the American Civil Liberties Union of Florida is already threatening to challenge parts of it in court. It is doubtful that significant parts of it, like the prohibition on giving legal advice to voters in line, could survive a constitutional challenge.
Florida legislators should not need a court to tell them not to interfere with the right to vote.