Here we go again. Like the dogwoods that bloom every spring in Tallahassee, the Legislature’s annual obsession with making it harder to vote has returned — just as we all knew it would.
It isn’t pretty. It isn’t necessary. And it isn’t right.
The Senate sprang a 98-page elections bill on the public with scant 24 hours notice before a recent committee hearing. Naturally, concerned citizens who traveled to Tallahassee from throughout the state had one minute to testify. As some raced through prepared remarks, they sounded like the old Federal Express commercial.
You can’t blame them. There’s a lot not to like in this bill. It has more than two dozen specific changes to an elections code that also underwent major changes in 2021 and 2022 — even after trouble-free elections. A year ago, Gov. Ron DeSantis got his elections police force. The year before, the Legislature restricted the use of ballot drop boxes.
This time, the targets are first-time voters such as college students, and groups that register new voters.
The Senate bill (SB 7050) would:
Increase fines on third-party groups that register new voters, and give them less time (10 days, not the current 14) to return voter registration forms. These groups should return forms promptly. But imposing steep fines on groups with shoestring budgets is an intimidation tactic to make the groups reconsider whether it’s really worth it to sign up voters.
Require third-party voter registration groups, often staffed by volunteers, to register with the state every election cycle, not once as they do now. It’s an added bureaucratic burden imposed by Republicans who pretend to want less government intrusion in people’s lives.
Require first-time voters to vote in person the first time if they don’t have a state-issued driver’s license or state ID. Let’s say a student moves to Orlando from New Jersey. She enrolls at the University of Central Florida, lives on campus, and doesn’t own a car. How does she vote?
Allow political committees to file reports less often at a time when most legislators control such committees, laden with special interest money. This change shows utter contempt for transparency. PCs are loosely regulated soft-money machines that are thinly disguised expense accounts for some politicians.
A step backward
On the other hand, parts of the bill make sense. Front-line election workers who verify signatures on vote-bymail ballots would have to undergo formal signature training, and it would be a third-degree felony to harass election workers “with the intent to impede or interfere” with their civic duty.
But most of the bill is a step backward, and the proof is easy to find: Most changes were not requested by county supervisors who actually run elections in Florida.
For the first time, the state would require a disclaimer on every voter information card that says: “This card is for information purposes only. This card is proof of registration but is not legal verification of the eligibility to vote. It is the responsibility of a voter to keep his or her eligibility status current.”
That looks suspiciously like an after-the-fact attempt to undercut one of the defenses by convicted felons accused by the state of voter fraud for voting when they unknowingly may have been ineligible.
Some of those defendants have cited the fact that they were issued voter ID cards by their county elections office. If Florida had a fully functioning voter registration system, the state would easily find cases of ineligible voters on the rolls.
Confusing and unnecessary
Sticking legalese on voter ID cards is an admission by the state that it’s unwilling or incapable of creating a centralized voter system to determine voter eligibility, a point made by the Florida Rights Restoration Coalition, which led a statewide drive to restore voting rights to most felons.
“If Florida desires to become the ‘gold standard’ of election integrity, it must start with fixing what’s broken, not painting over it with more legislation,” the coalition said. “We believe creating a centralized voter registration system is the answer, not creating confusing laws or spending tax dollars to investigate and prosecute Florida citizens from all walks of life.”
This legislation appears calculated to discourage volunteers from registering new voters, and it is no coincidence that this proposal surfaces after Florida ended its membership in ERIC, the Electronic Registration Information Center, a multistate data-sharing effort to make the voter rolls more accurate and reduce duplicate voter registrations.
One of the conditions of ERIC membership was for states to undertake a statewide mailing to all adult citizens who have not registered to vote. By their recent actions, including this bill, Republicans demonstrate that they want Republicans to vote. They don’t want everybody to vote.
Next week is Week 7 of the nineweek session, and none of these changes have yet been heard in the House of Representatives. What’s the rush here?
Year after year, it’s the same old story. This is no way to tinker with the people’s access to democracy.
The Sun Sentinel Editorial Board consists of Editorial Page Editor Steve Bousquet, Deputy Editorial Page Editor Dan Sweeney, and Editor-in-Chief Julie Anderson. Editorials are the opinion of the Board and written by one of its members or a designee. To contact them, email firstname.lastname@example.org.
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