League of Women Voters urges Gov. Scott to veto elections bill; hints at lawsuit

05/12/11 Seán Kinane
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The Florida Legislature passed an election bill that supporters say will help crack down on voting fraud. But opponents, including the League of Women Voters, say there isn’t widespread voting fraud and the bill, if signed by Governor Scott, will make it more difficult to vote in Florida. They are asking Governor Rick Scott to veto the election bill. Mickey Castor is president of the League’s Hillsborough County chapter. She is the stepmother of Democratic U.S. Representative Kathy Castor, but the League is a nonpartisan group.

"HB or House Bill 1355 has draconian measures that are entirely unnecessary. It is a voter suppression bill that is intended to address a problem that doesn't exist. To be specific, to begin with the voter registration process; there have been what's called third party registrars. Groups, like the League of Women Voters, like church groups, Boy Scouts, and we have had great flexibility. We take stacks of voter registration forms, we distribute them to people. Sometimes people don't want to fill them out, they're in a hurry or they want to think about it, and so they take it home. We know that they may or may not send them in but this is all within the control of the voter or the potential voter.

"What the new law does is require all of us who are volunteers who want to go out to USF or out to the neighborhood store or wherever we want to go, we have to go down to the Supervisor of Elections Office, fill out a lot of paperwork with a lot of personal information that, in effect, deputizes us. Then we have 48 hours to turn in any voter registration forms that we collect and if we do not there is a penalty of $50 per registration form or a cumulative of $1000, up to $1000, and the attorney general has the potential to bring civil citations against us. So that this caused the League of Women Voters of Florida, our statewide organization, very reluctantly decided that we could not put our members and the organization in that position. It was just too potentially burdensome. If the governor signs the bill, we still hope that he won't, but if he signs the bill and it goes into effect then we will not register voters until something changes. Signing up people, registering people to vote, is not a partisan activity. It is a good government activity and that's what the League is all about. So that's one part."

There's also a component that has to do with whether people can change their names at the polling location. Tell us about that.

"That's correct. For the last 40 years the law has been in effect that if someone has moved since they registered and, you know, changing your registration card may not be the top of your list when you are moving, and so when they have moved they have to let the Supervisor of Elections know the new address or a woman marries and her name changes and the name is not the same so the way the law works now if you go and the identification that you present to the poll worker does not match what they have in their books then they have the option of correcting it to the current address. Correcting their books to the current address, on the spot. That's the beauty of computerized databases which we have had since 2006 in the state of Florida so that that database can be easily changed. Then it matches the ID that the voter has and the database is now accurate and they cast a regular ballot.

"So in searching to fix a problem that doesn't exist, or voter fraud, they now say if your ID does not match what is in the election's database, you can only cast a provisional ballot. And then, on a case by case basis, they'll decide whether the canvassing board in the Supervisor of Elections office, after the election, they will decide whether to count that ballot or not. In the past a high percentage, close to half, of provisional ballots have been thrown out."

There's also less number of days that people can early vote. Is that a problem that people are clamoring for? "Give us less early voting?"

"No. Early voting has been a great success. We have almost half in the last election were cast either by early voting or by vote by mail."

If this does pass is there any action that the League is considering taking?

"Yes. We are exploring the possibility of suing the state and we are very optimistic that if it came to that that we would prevail. In '06 there was legislation that was very punitive toward third party registrars like this."

Previous WMNF news coverage of the 2011 Legislative session

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