Researchers find Florida's election law disproportionately hurt minority voters

01/17/13 Seán Kinane
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An elections law passed by the Florida Legislature and signed by Governor Rick Scott two years ago disproportionately reduced the opportunity of African American voters to have their voices heard in the November 2012 election.

That’s one of the findings by researchers from Dartmouth College and the University of Florida outlined in their report called “Florida’s 2012 General Election Under HB 1355: Early Voting, Provisional Ballots, and Absentee Ballots.” One of the researchers, Daniel Smith is Professor of Political Science at the University of Florida in Gainesville.

"I think it's safe to say that HB 1355 had very deliterious effects on racial and ethnic minorities. Things that we should have been able to expect from all the reporting that you did and research that Professor Harrington and I did and reports that the Brennan Center and the League of Women Voters all suggested. I think it turned out to be true. We saw those long lines not only during the early voting period but also on election day and they were disproportionately filled with racial and ethnic minorities."

Smith spoke with reporters Thursday morning on a conference call organized by the League of Women Voters of Florida. Smith said the analysis he and his colleague did of November’s voting pattern suggests that even though there were more votes cast before election day in 2012 compared to 2008 …

"that was fully attributable to the increase in absentee ballots in 2012 compared with 2008. In fact we had close to 250,000 less votes cast on election day in 2012 compared to 2008. That's almost a 3 percentage point decrease, a little more than a 3 percentage point decrease from 2008. We also had over 225,000 less votes cast in the 8 day truncated period of early voting compared to the 14 days in 2008. That's almost a 3 percentage point drop between 2008 and 2012. Early voting and election day in real numbers dropped because the electorate increased in terms of the number of registered voters. It also increased proportionately from 2008."

The law, called HB 1355, reduced the number of early voting days from 14 to eight, put restrictions on voter registration drives and required registered voters who had moved across county lines without updating their registrations to cast provisional ballots.

This week the Legislature’s Senate and House ethics and elections committees heard from elections supervisors how to fix problems that led to long lines on Election Day in November. In the conference call Deirdre Macnab, president of the League of Women Voters of Florida, suggested ways the Legislature could help more Floridians have their votes count.

"I would say that probably 2 of the top priorities would be the extension of early voting days, the provision of the 2 weekends and the ability of supervisors to select their early voting sites. That flexibility is very, very important but it's hard to leave out the others. Provisional ballots as Professor Smith has shown with his research were a real encumbrance in terms of efficient voting."

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