WFSU News Team
Fri July 13, 2012
Florida Considering Settling on Voter Registration Case
After a federal judge struck down parts of a Florida law that made it more difficult for voter registration groups to register voters, registration drives are starting back up. The groups organizing the drives are well-behind where they were at this same time in 2008, they said they’re working hard to catch back up. But there’s a chance they won’t make it. State officials have made the first move to appeal the judge’s ruling.
Elections Officials like Leon County Elections Supervisor Ion Sancho said a Florida law that put more rules in place for third party groups to register voters just cuts down on the number of people who will vote.
"In Florida Officials have turned a blind eye to voters, have turned a blind eye to their needs, and we need accessibility to the polls. Voting is not a privilege. It’s a fundamental right. And to deny things like voting shows how far away we have traveled from the wisdom of our founding fathers," Sancho said.
And that’s one reason U.S. Judge Robert Hinkle said he struck down parts of the law. In his ruling Hinkle said the law put “harsh, Impractical” restrictions on the groups that conduct voter registration drives. And in some cases the new rules wound up with people like high school government teachers facing steep fines for turning in registration forms late. It’s a rule that even Secretary of State Ken Detzner admits was creating some problems.
“Judge Hinkle did a nice jobs in reviewing parts of the voter registration process. He took a few pieces of the law out and kept most of the law intact and that law is being administered for those people that want to go out and organize registration drives, which I strongly encourage,” Detzner said.
And The Florida League of Women Voter’s Executive Director, Jessica Lowe Minor, said those changes have allowed her group and several other to start getting people signed up to vote.
“Not all of the law was repealed, but good portions of it were blocked, the portions of it that we felt were the most onerous were blocked though the preliminary injunction issued by Federal Judge Robert Hinkle," Lowe-Minor said.
For example, groups now have a longer 10 day period to turn in completed voter registration forms. Though Lowe-Minor does said voter registration over-all is behind.
"Unfortunately the state of Florida is about 80-thousand new registrations behind where we would be perhaps if the law had not gone into effect. We’re about 80-thousand new registrations behind where we were relative to the 2008 elections. So we’re definitely seeing a lag in voter registration, but we’re hopeful with the League continuing its efforts and the other organizations who’ve resumed voter registration that we’ll be able to continue to do so and we’ll be able to bring them into the democratic process," Lowe-minor said.
Meanwhile Florida Officials have filed paperwork to let them appeal Hinkle’s ruling. But Executive Director of the American Civil Liberties Union of Florida, Howard Simmon, says he doesn’t think things will go that far. Simon says state officials just filed the appeal papers to preserve the state’s right to appeal if it chooses to do so. Right now, Florida officials are involved in talks to try to settle the case. Simon says the ACLU represents a number of the voter rights groups involved in the case. He says he expects the case to be settled.
“And in fact, the governor just had to file papers with the U.S. district court in Washington D.C. in yet another case that we are involved in saying that they are in serious negotiations to settle the case over voter registration and they are trying to do so expeditiously. So, just because the governor has filed an appeal, I certainly hope this doesn’t get to an appeal and I hope that we can settle the case that preserves the right of volunteer organizations like the League of Women Voters, to go out and register voters, potential voters once again," Simon said.
Simon said he hopes the issue will be settled in the next week or so. Florida is involved in about a half dozen lawsuits over the state’s elections law and its efforts to remove non-citizen voters from the state’s rolls.