(Tami Neves, left, and Kelly Maron, both of Fort Lauderdale, Fla., fill out voter registration forms Monday, Oct. 4, 2004, in Ft. Lauderdale, Fla. Democrats and Republicans are making a last-minute push to sign up new voters in Florida before the state’s midnight Monday registration deadline for the fiercely battled presidential election. (AP Photo/South Florida Sun-Sentinel, Lou Toman))

New Florida law blocking Latinos from voting, say groups

A number of organizations are challenging Florida’s strict new voter registration regulations, alleging they are preventing Latinos and others from voting. (Photo/Getty images).    

Florida, an important swing state, is seeing a drop in voter registrations compared to the same time in 2008. Latina immigration attorney Elizabeth Pines, who has been helping to organize voter registration efforts as one of the board directors of the non-partisan Florida League of Women Voters, says that is no surprise. For the first time since 1939, she says, her group is not doing voter registration drives, since she says the Republican-led state legislature has made voter registration too difficult.

“We are not going to expose our volunteers to this,” says Pines. As part of the new restrictions on community-based voter registration drives, volunteers have to fill out extensive forms, go to a local elections office and take an in-person oath, and be financially responsible for handing it “late” registration forms.  If a community group does not hand in new registered voter forms in exactly 48 hours, they have to pay 50 dollars for every person registered to vote.

“Why do this?” says Pines.  ”Voter fraud in Florida is virtually non-existent,” she adds. And the worst part, says Pines, is that these restriction have resulted in one thing.

“Fewer people will register and vote, especially Latinos, African Americans and students,” she says.

One of the new law’s sponsors, Republican legislator Miguel Díaz de la Portilla, said that “by tightening regulations…we are ensuring that anyone who fills out a voter registration application actually gets registered to vote in a timely manner.” He added it will provide more transparency and avoid voter fraud.

Díaz added, “I encourage critics to tell me what, if anything, is wrong with helping to ensure uniformity in Florida’s electoral process.”

New figures, however, are showing fewer newly registered voters in Florida. There are over 8,000 less new registered voters compared to the same time in 2008, the last presidential election year.

Florida’s Department of State communications director, Chris Cate, has said in a New York Times article that “to suggest the new elections law had a greater impact on voter registration than the election ballot itself is a leap of logic.”  Reasons for fewer voter registration this year can include other factors, such as less voter interest or population changes in the different counties.

Organizations like the League of United Latin American Citizens (LULAC), do not agree. LULAC’s Brent Wilkes has said “this law will cripple the mission of civic organizations,” since “more than one-third of voters who registered through non-partisan third-party drives were racial minorities in 2008.”  These numbers prove, according to LULAC, that these voting drives are a big factor in increasing minority voter participation.

Rock the Vote and the Florida League of Women Voters are among the groups suing Florida, alleging the new registration guidelines prevent community organizers from exercising their right to free speech when they talk and register voters. The Mexican League Defense and Education Fund, MALDEF, has stated that Florida’s “challenges to long-standing voting rights act provide additional areas of concern for the Latino vote.”

Florida legislators also imposed new photo ID requirements and cut the number of days for early voting. In a recent testimony before the U.S. Senate Judiciary Committee, constitutional law professor Ciara Torres-Spellisey and Attorney Nina Hayden argued that “the compression of the voting schedule may have a pronounced impact on minority voters,” since in years past many minorities voted on the Sunday before Election Day, which has now been eliminated.

Two lawsuits against the state are pending.  In the meantime, League of Women Voters director Elizabeth Pines says they have created a smartphone “tag” which gives a Florida resident direct access to election information with the click of a phone.  This is not, however, a substitute for decades of successful voter registration, according to Pines.

“All these laws are preventing people from exercising their right to vote, which is an essential part of our constitution.”


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