Florida is on the verge of passing a law that will make it harder for groups like Rock the Vote and our volunteers to register voters, harder for you to cast your ballot, and, ultimately, harder to have your ballot counted. This is a direct attack on us, and it is a direct attack on you and your rights to participate as a voter and volunteer.
First, the proposed legislation would put onerous restrictions on voter registration drives, imposing new bureaucratic requirements on voter registration organizations like Rock the Vote and potentially criminalizing volunteers who register voters. Third-party voter registration groups like ours would have to submit personal information on all of our staff and “registration agents” (we actually call them volunteers!) before we can register voters in Florida. Independent volunteers would have to do the same.
Want to register voters at a concert with Rock the Vote? Or set up a registration drive on your campus? Or get your friends on the rolls? You will have to go down to the local elections office, provide a bunch of personal information, take an oath, and then be on the hook financially if you don’t turn in completed forms in two days.
That’s right, completed forms would have to be submitted within 48 hours (down from 10 days right now) or groups and volunteers face fines of $50 for each late form. Volunteers would be personally liable if those forms don’t get in and could face up to $1000 in fines.
And don’t you dare bring a friend with you to help register voters unless they’re on file with the state bureaucracy. They would be volunteering illegally. Clearly, they cannot be trusted.
The Miami Herald suggested that it meant to harass volunteers and voter registration organizations. Sadly, that’s exactly right.
Groups like the League of Women Voters already has said it would shut down their voter registration drives in the state. Rock the Vote would have to do the same. We couldn’t run our high school civics and voter registration program. We couldn’t let volunteers use our name to run registration drives on college campuses. We wouldn’t send volunteers to concerts and festivals to register young people.
I’m starting to think that’s the point.
Second, the proposed legislation (Senate Bill 2086 and House Bill 1355, for those of you keeping track at home) would eliminate the ability of voters to update your registration information, like a change of address, at the polls. The new law would repeal a positive post-2000 reform and turn too many voters into second-class voters. Currently, for example, members of highly mobile populations – like students, young professionals, minorities, renters – who are registered to vote can update their information at the polling place and cast a regular ballot. Under the new law, they would not be allowed to change their information and would have to cast a provisional ballot. Newly married women who change their last name but not their voter registration information will be forced to bring their marriage certificate with them to the polls and, even then, would only be allowed to cast a provisional ballot. In 2008, half of the provisional ballots were thrown out, including all provisional ballots cast in the wrong precinct.
Third, the legislation would cut down the early voting period from 13 days to five days. Florida historically has issues with hours-long lines during early voting and even longer lines on Election Day. Naturally, rather than expanding opportunities to vote and making the process more efficient, Florida politicians are taking the state in the opposite direction. The negative effect of limiting early voting opportunities is reminiscent of the Yogi Berra quip about a popular restaurant: “Nobody goes there anymore. It’s too crowded.” Of course you would want to get rid of something as popular as early voting, right? There is little doubt that voters will face more crowds and fewer opportunities to vote, reducing the number of people who subject themselves to the hassle of exercising their rights.
Rock the Vote is the nation’s largest voter registration organization. Over the last 20 years, we have registered more voters than any other organization or campaign, including more than 2 million in 2008 and 250,000 in 2010. Through our various programs – online voter registration, on-the-ground registration drives on campuses and at concerts with volunteers, and our high school civics program – we have put hundreds of thousands of young voters on the rolls in Florida. All of that could end under this law.
Across the country, we see other attempts to make it harder for young people to register and vote. Politicians in 30 states are pushing laws that require voters to produce narrow set of photo identification at the polls, identification that many young people just don’t have. There are efforts to eliminate same day registration that allows people to register to vote and cast their ballot at the same time in states that have had this policy for years and lead the nation in voter turnout. Legislatures are shortening convenient early voting periods, even though voters are increasingly using these opportunities.
What’s going on here? I hate to say it, but it is starting to look like they don’t want you to vote.
Want to do something about it? Check out the Rock the Vote, Don’t Block the Vote campaign and fight back.