Democrats and voting rights advocates say restrictions imposed on third-party voter registration groups are the most problematic items in the contentious election bill pushed by GOP lawmakers this legislative session.
“I think the goal of this bill is to really stop third-party voter registration organizations,” declared Broward County Democrat Robin Bartleman at the conclusion of a 1 1/2 hour discussion on the bill ( PCB SAC 23-01), which received its first hearing in a House committee Wednesday.
The third-party voter registration groups collect voter registration applications and submit them to supervisors of elections. Those groups, for example, might be doing voter registration drives. Both of the main political parties, Democrats and Republicans, are registered as third-party voter organizations and as well hundreds of other groups, according to Florida’s division of elections.
Rep. Doug Bankson of Florida House District 39 (which includes Apopka) believes the bill guarantees integrity at the ballot box.
Integrity in our election process is of key importance, and we need to have common sense ways to verify that the voters that determine the future of our state of Florida are from Florida. We can have a big welcome sign on the front door but must also know who comes through it, and voter integrity is one of the best ways to accomplish this.
The Hope CommUnity Center in Apopka, which is one of those third-party registration groups, is opposed to the bill and is hosting an event to push back on the legislation. They sent The Apopka Voice the following statement:
"On Friday (April 21st), non-partisan organizations that do voter registration work in our diverse communities will be coming together to denounce a voter disenfranchisement bill that targets the work that we do specifically. PCB SAC 23-01 & SB7050 was heard today in the House State Affairs Committee and will be heard on Thursday at the Senate Fiscal Policy Committee.
These bills dramatically increase fines and put in place harsher deadlines for these community organizations, making it even harder and more intimidating for them to continue supporting voters. The fines will be crippling to many of our organizations who do the hard work of registering communities that are often left behind.
The fines, coupled with shorter deadlines, will especially impact smaller organizations that are often closest to marginalized communities. This is deliberately designed to attack and erase our voter registration efforts and thus have fewer people of color registered to participate in our democracy."
Changes on the bill on Wednesday include:
Requiring that those organizations that are registering voters apply every election cycle with the Department of State. Currently, the groups don’t have to do that. The deadline for submitting voter registrations has now been shortened from 14 calendar days to 10 calendar days, with the fines increased substantially if they are turned in late — up to $100 per registration per each day late (from $50) to a maximum of $2,500. If the voter registration form is submitted after the book-closing deadline (29 days before an election), the fines now go up to $100 per day late per registration, to a maximum of $5,000. And for each voter registration form never submitted, the fines go up to $5,000. Individuals working with third-party voter registration groups must be U.S. citizens.
Voting rights advocates said that these groups work extensively to register voters of color and that the changes will intimidate those groups from continuing to do that work.
“One out of every ten Black and brown voters are registered by third-party voter registration organizations, as well as two out of every 100 white voters,” said Genesis Robinson with the Equal Ground Fund, who testified before the House State Affairs committee on Wednesday. “These organizations are essential for engaging Black and brown communities in the democratic process and they play a vital role in registering voters of all political parties.”
Amy Keith, the Florida program director for Common Cause, called the provisions targeting third-party voter registration groups “a shocking assault on one of the most patriotic, time-honored and deeply American activities,” adding that they provide an essential service for voters who don’t have a Florida driver’s license or State ID and therefore can’t access the state’s online voter registration system.
But Cord Byrd, the state’s Secretary of State and the top election official in the state said that his office had recently fined one third-party voting registration group $34,000 for turning in 116 voter registration applications late, which was on top of a previous $12,200 fine for that same organization (which he later identified as Hard Knock Strategies).
He said that while he was hearing a lot of concerns about the registration groups, he wasn’t hearing many concerns about those voters who were disenfranchised.
“It’s important to understand that of those 116 voters, every single one of them were prohibited to vote,” Byrd said.
Miami-Dade County Democrat Ashley Gantt proposed an amendment that she said would cure that issue by allowing for same-day voter registration, something that is legal in 22 other states. However, the amendment failed.
Byrd said it would be a “terrible idea” because he said his department wouldn’t be adequately able to verify whether the voter was eligible to vote.
Another issue that Democrats and voting rights advocates have concerns about is a new statement added to voter information cards that says that the card is proof of registration but is not legal verification of eligibility to vote. They say that it should be the responsibility of the state to inform citizens whether they’re eligible to vote or not, and not on the voter.
Tampa Bay Democrat Michele Rayner-Goolsby invoked the videos that emerged last summer when people were arrested for allegedly voting illegally.
“You have folks that have a voter registration card, they assume that they are able to vote, no one else has told them that they’re not, they go vote, and then all of a sudden, they’re being paraded in front of a camera by the governor in handcuffs,” she said to the House bill sponsor, Hillsborough County Republican Lawrence McClure. “What is the mechanism in your bill that would stop that from happening?”
“We want that language on that registration card so that voters clearly understand that just because you have this card does not mean that you are eligible to vote,” McClure said. “You need to make sure that you’re within the framework of current law to make sure that you are eligible to vote.”
The House State Affairs Committee ultimately approved the proposed committee substitute bill on a party-line vote. The Senate equivalent (SB 7050) passed through its first committee earlier this month and goes before the Fiscal Policy Committee on Thursday.
Florida Phoenix is part of States Newsroom, a network of news bureaus supported by grants and a coalition of donors as a 501c(3) public charity.
No comments on this item Please log in to comment by clicking here