League of Women Voters president calls FL election bill an assault on voters

04/22/11 Lisa Marzilli
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Thursday night the Republican controlled Florida House overwhelmingly approved a sweeping and controversial elections bill, sponsored by GOP Representative Dennis Baxley. Among other things, HB 1355 and it’s Senate companion SB 2086 will prohibit updating personal information, like name or address, at the polling station; will cut in half the time allowed for gathering petition signatures needed to add a constitutional amendment to the state ballot and shorten early voting by 50 percent, allowing folks only one week to cast a ballot instead of two. It would also increase regulations and obstacles for third party voter registration groups. Republicans argue that the bill is needed to cut down on voter fraud but voting rights advocates, including many elections supervisors say Florida does not have a voter fraud problem. Deirdre Macnab is President of the Florida chapter of the League of Women Voters.

"We haven't found voter fraud, period, in Florida. Back in 2006, the state began a computerized database of all voters. Between that statewide database and the checks and balances that are in place we are not aware of voter fraud being an issue in the state of Florida."

Let me ask you, how will HB 1355 change the way organizations like yours conduct business?

"Well let me ... I'll answer that in just a second, let me just address it to the voter in general in terms of how it's going to affect the voter. We believe this is one of the biggest anti-voter bills that we've seen as long as we can remember. First and foremost for Florida's voters, most people really have taken to voting early and have taken advantage of this. We've had 15 early voting days and in the 2010 election it was so popular Governor Crist had to take emergency action to extend the hours because lines were so long. So, Florida voters have really enjoyed being ... having the access of early voting and this proposal will more than cut it by more than 50 percent, down to 7 days. So, on the brink of a large national election, this would really impact so many of our voters across the state, particularly people who are working. The vast cutbacks on early voting dates and times would really be a hardship.

"Secondly, it eliminates people's ability who are on line to get help. If they have questions or they want to speak to an attorney, under this bill they will no longer be able to get legal advice or help at the polls. Also, a very big problem for people listening and for voters across the state is we have a very large number of people who come to the polls who need to change their address and often women who are changing their last name for reasons of marriage or divorce. For 40 years they've been able to do that at their polls and cast a regular ballot. The bills that are in the House and the Senate together would make that not possible anymore, even though we have a statewide database that every poll can tap into instantaneously and make those changes. Now voters will need to cast a provisional ballot which gets counted, if it does, the next day. After the results are in.

"These are hardships for voters of all kinds. It is particularly difficult for students who have very high rates of mobility. It's hard for women who, in many cases, need to change their last names because of marital status, and it's hard for any voter who has questions or legal issues and needs help at the polls. They will not be able to be helped and we will see a vast increase in the use of provisional ballots.

"And then lastly, to your original question, 'how it's going to affect groups like ours', we've been registering voters for 91 years. I can't ask my volunteers across the state who are grandmothers, retired teachers, young professionals, to go down to the supervisor of elections, fill in a host of personal information, take an oath, and be liable up to $1000 if they get voter registration forms in after 48 hours and possibly face criminal penalties. These are some of the elements in these bills and it will freeze completely our voter registration efforts."

Is there anything that citizens can do right now, before ... I know Monday it's going to a vote on the Senate floor, is that correct?

"That's correct. It will go to a Senate committee vote and there is really something very important that voters and citizens can do. They can go to our website, which is www.thefloridavoter.org/find_officials and find their Senator in the state legislature and call them and tell them to vote no on this anti-voter bill. It is an outrageous assault against their rights as voters and it will cut back significantly on the convenience and ease with which they are able to vote. The Supervisors of Elections are not supporting this and say that many voters are going to get there on election day and have some significant frustration."

So if this does pass, Deirdre Macnab, do you see the League filing a lawsuit?

"We never like to file lawsuits, although we filed a lawsuit and won it on laws very similar to these just a few years ago where they were trying to cut back on voter registration. We will certainly be exploring legal action if necessary if this passes. I'm very hopeful that if citizens do speak out and they call their state senator that we will be able to stop this, but we will not unless citizens get angry about this and make sure that they contact their state senator which they can find at www.thefloridavoter.org/find_officials. We try to make it as easy as possible for Florida citizens to find their elected officials. They need to hear from Main Street. They need to hear from the voters across the State of Florida. Tallahassee's not easy to get to for a lot of people so they need to make their phone calls and emails and make sure their voices and their opinions are heard. And if people speak out I have hope that we might be able to stop this terrible anti-voter bill which will be an inconvenience and a frustration and is an assault on voters across the state."

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Can men be card carrying members of the LWV???

Jeez… I remember when it was an Election Day… not an election fortnight!!! Seriously… you’re telling me that you can’t get your vote in within a WEEK??? Please!!! Oh yeah… changing your NAME and address at the poll… what could possibly go wrong there??? Hay… here’s a thought… do it at the DMV. You know… the place where you’re supposed to change your driver’s license when you do something on a whim… like move or change you name. The place that will change your voter’s registration for you… automatically.