Recently, the New York Times reported on an analysis by the paper suggesting that new, draconian restrictions (and criminal penalties) on voter registration programs in Florida may be responsible for a sizable drop-off in registrations this year, compared to the same period in 2008.
"In the months since its new law took effect in May [of 2011], 81,471 fewer Floridians have registered to vote than during the same period before the 2008 presidential election," according to their analysis.
Though the Times cautiously notes that, "It is difficult to say just how much of the decrease is due to the restrictions in the law, and how much to demographic changes, a lack of enthusiasm about politics or other circumstances, including the fact that there was no competitive Democratic presidential primary this year."
Nonetheless, they detail that, "new registrations dropped sharply in some areas where the voting-age population has been growing, the analysis found, including Miami-Dade County, where they fell by 39 percent, and Orange County, where they fell by a little more than a fifth."
Volusia County Supervisor of Elections Ann McFall --- a Republican --- charges that it is the new law, imposing strict time limitations and harsh criminal penalties, such as fines and jail time, on third party voter registration groups, which has led to the shortfall in new voter registrations this year.
"The drop-off is our League of Women Voters, our five universities in Volusia County, none of which are making a concentrated effort this year," McFall says.
Indeed, the new laws --- passed by a Republican legislature and signed into law by Republican Governor Rick Scott last year --- have been met with a great deal of criticism from both election officials (even Republican ones, like McFall), as well as non-partisan voter organizations in the Sunshine State. As has been widely reported, the non-partisan League of Women Voters in Florida has been forced to call off their voter registration drive this cycle, for the first time in 72 years, thanks to fears that their workers will be faced with strict criminal sanctions and harsh fines if they are unable to meet new, often impossible, time restrictions on turning in registration forms to officials.
Last November we told you about about one of the FL high-school teachers who was arrested and charged for signing up her students to vote, after being turned in to state prosecutors by McFall who said she felt "sick to [her] stomach" for having to do it.
But, setting aside, for a moment, whether the drop-off in registrations is directly attributable to the new Republican laws --- which also include shortening the numbers of days for Early Voting --- it was this startling piece of information from the Times article which caught our eye...
Mr. Williams’s group registered two voters on the Sunday of the three-day weekend, and noted the time, as required by the law: 2:15 p.m. and 2:20 p.m. When the local elections office reopened on Tuesday, Jan. 17, the group handed the forms in. They were stamped as received at 3:53 p.m.
This resulted in a warning letter from Secretary of State Kurt S. Browning, who noted that the state can levy fines of $50 for each late application, with an annual cap of $1,000 in fines per group. “In your case, although the supervisor’s office was closed on Monday, Jan. 16, the 48-hour period ended for the two applications on Jan. 17 at 2:15 p.m. and 2:20 p.m.; therefore, the applications were untimely under the law,” Mr. Browning wrote. The letter said that “any future violation of the third-party voter registration law may result in my referral of the matter to the attorney general for an enforcement action.”
Talk about a "police state." Being just over one hour late in turning in two voter registration forms results in a threatening letter from the Secretary of State.
"We’re out here trying to register voters," Williams told the Times, "and I’m being threatened for doing it because we missed the time limit by around an hour — and we’re doing it on the first business day they were open!"
That's the sort of chilling effect of these laws and, of course, it is also the intention of them. They have nothing to do with "voter fraud," as even the main sponsor of the bill, State Rep. Dennis Baxley conceded during an interview late last year, when he admitted that there are no problems with "voter fraud" in the Sunshine State. He then went on to lie about the bill, and the FL League of Women Voters, nonetheless.
(Baxley was also the lead sponsor of Florida's first-in-the-nation "Stand Your Ground" law, which has helped to keep Trayvon Martin's killer George Zimmerman out of jail, so far, as well as help to encourage the killing of others in the state of Florida and elsewhere.)
The League of Women Voters of Florida and voting advocates Rock the Vote have filed suit [PDF] against the new voter registration restrictions in federal district court.
Last month, the U.S. Dept. of Justice filed an objection to the new FL laws in federal court, after finding that the state had failed to meet its obligation to demonstrate that the new laws are not racially discriminatory under the federal Voting Rights Act.
The Colbert Report's hilarious and horrifying March 1, 2012 report on one of the Florida high-school teachers criminally charged under the Florida GOP's new anti-voter registration laws after having registered her own students to vote...