New Florida election laws mainly affect women, college students

The Republican-dominated Florida legislature is looking at overhauling its voting and election laws. The changes would “affect voter registration, shorten the early voting period and make it harder for third-party groups to register voters,” according to the article. Senate Bill 2086 would cut the early voting period from two weeks to one. It’s backed by St. Augustine Republican John Thrasher.

Aside from the political implications, critics said shortening the early voting period will lead to delays and long lines at voting precincts on Election Day, particularly in Florida’s major cities. Leon County Elections Supervisor Ion Sancho said the use of early voting has allowed counties to accommodate the growth of Florida’s 12 million-member electorate over the last decade without expanding the number of precincts.

“Early voting is critical to allowing the large number of voters that we have to access the system,” Sancho said. “What the Senate is doing by cutting access to early voting by 50 percent is simply suppressing the vote.”

A house bill, according to the article, would modify a 1973 law that allowed voters to make minor changes before voting on Election Day. Those changes include addresses and last names. Voters would be required to use provisional ballots, which would be subject to review before they can be counted after Election Day.

The measure may most heavily impact student voters, who often attend schools away from their hometowns, and women voters, who may have changed their names because of a marriage or divorce.

In Leon County — home to two state universities — Sancho said 3,500 voters would have fallen into that category in the 2008 presidential election. And he said supervisors around the state have calculated that “tens of thousands” of voters could be impacted in next year’s election if the provision becomes law. Sancho said the registration challenges will lead to more long lines at the precincts, where the time-consuming provisional ballots will have to be filed, and could even jeopardize the votes, since provisional ballots have to be counted within four days of a general election.

“This is a recipe for not counting provisional ballots and having legitimate voters’ votes in Florida discarded and that’s appalling given our experience in 2000,” Sancho said, referring to the disputed presidential election.

It’s no secret that Republicans have long been in favor of tailoring voting rights for groups that traditionally tend to vote Democratic (here). In that article, New Hampshire state house Speaker William O’Brien was recorded last month at a Tea Party gathering as saying “foolish” college students lack “life experiences” and “just vote their feelings.”
They’ve even shown their disdain for allowing voting rights for the U.S. House of Representative’s six delegates, stripping them of their power to vote in Congress.  What’s interesting about the Florida bills is that it paints a broad brush and affects just about everyone who votes in Florida. In a time which voter participation hovers between 50 and 60 percent, it seems counterproductive for states to further limit opportunities for voters to cast their ballots. It almost seems the Republican-led legislature is more interested in suppressing voter turnout rather than encouraging its citizens to participate in the political process.
Furthermore, requiring voters who make name or address changes to use provisional ballots could amount to a violation of the 1965 Voting Rights Act, which outlawed poll taxes, literacy tests and other bureaucratic restrictions and intimidations to voting. Sure, these provisional ballots are eventually counted after Election Day. But, just like the Leon County, Fla. election supervisor said, this would lead to longer lines and more stress on poll workers to county larger numbers of these ballots. And we all know what happens to people when they have to wait in long lines for an extended period of time…
Women, college students and the general public at large should be concerned about the tide of voter rights restrictions taking over state legislatures. These measures to decrease voter turnout and to suppress participation in the democratic process are nothing short of Republicans’ attempts to lessen the chances of Democratic victories.