Fla. Eyes Voter Rolls, Puts New Limits on Registration and Shortens Early Voting

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May 17, 2012; Source: New York Times

In Florida, another election year brings another election controversy. The Florida Division of Elections has decided to use immigration information from a database maintained by the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) to examine whether some registered voters in the state are not U.S. citizens. DHS had denied the Florida Division of Elections access to the database, citing legal concerns, among others. Florida election officials then turned to the state’s Department of Highway Safety and Motor Vehicles and asked them to check on 182,000 voters that they think may not be U.S. citizens though the same DHS database, which the highway department can already access.

To some, the move “really raises questions as to whether or not this is yet another partisan effort to scrub the voting rolls,” says American Civil Liberties Union Executive Director Howard Simon, who also contends of the list, “We know it’s inaccurate because people from as far away as Pensacola to Miami have come forward to say, ‘I am a U.S. citizen. I am eligible to vote.’ ”

To others, the move is simply an attempt to enforce the law by preventing those who are ineligible to vote from casting a ballot in November. “No process is perfect,” according to Florida Republican Party Chairman Lenny Curry. “That doesn’t mean there shouldn’t be a process and you shouldn’t try to protect the system.”

This move comes in the wake of other recent policy changes related to the voting process in Florida, including new restrictions on third parties (for instance, the League of Women Voters, which is challenging the restriction in court) that are engaged in voter registration and a reduction in the number of early voting days. The U.S. Department of Justice has challenged the changes, charging that Florida has not demonstrated that these changes are compatible with the Voting Rights Act, which demands that voting laws must not have the effect of “denying or abridging the right to vote on the basis of race, color, or membership in a language minority group.”

The new registration restrictions, which require groups—often nonprofit, nonpartisan organizations like the Boy Scouts or the League of Women Voters—to send in all forms they receive within 48 hours, has reportedly turned most third party groups away from conducting voter registration altogether. The result, according to University of Florida political scientist Daniel Smith, is noticeable: “What we’ve seen very clearly is that there’s been a drop-off in new registrations across the state of Florida.” The cutback on early voting days is also expected to have an impact, particularly as it would eliminate early voting on the Sunday before Election Day, which was a popular “Souls to the Polls” day among many religious communities.

In the ongoing balance between facilitating voter participation and discouraging voter fraud, where do you think Florida falls? –Mike Keefe-Feldman

Fla. Eyes Voter Rolls, Puts New Limits on Registration and Shortens Early Voting