Florida’s voter registration numbers for both Republicans and Democrats stagnated over the course of about a year, and political experts say it’s mainly because of a law passed last year that put limits on third party voter registration. But, now that some of those restrictions have eased, there’s a mad dash around the state to ramp up voter registration drives before the October 9th deadline.
“House Bill 1355 certainly had a dampening effect on voter registration in the state of Florida, when it went into effect July 1, 2011.”
While he admits there are more registered voters today than there were for the last presidential election, University of Florida Political Scientist Daniel Smith says voter registration in Florida hasn’t been the same ever since a new election law passed last year.
“There was an increase in anticipation of the 2008 presidential primary election in January. That same enthusiasm was there in 2011, but we didn’t see the parallel increase in voter registration," said Smith. "Voter Registration daily rates remained around 1,200 a day on average, whereas in 2007, when you look at November and then into December, it was well over 2,000 registering a day on average.”
Republicans pushed for the election law claiming it would cut down on voter fraud. But, Political Scientist Smith says groups, like the League of Women Voters and Rock the Vote, were forced to halt their voter registration drives because of restrictions in the new election law.
Jessica Lowe-Minor with the League of Women Voters of Florida agrees the League saw a slump in their voter registration drive efforts, but they’re now ready to get back in the game, after a federal judge ruled in their favor and tossed out that particular provision.
“We certainly do think that the law that was passed in 2011 has set the League back. However, that matter is settled and we’re excited to move forward in conjunction with the state to bring people onto the voter registration rolls," said Lowe-Minor. "And, we are certainly doubling down our efforts. We have almost 400 League Volunteers who are authorized to do voter registration in the state at this time. And, they’re out in full force.”
Other groups registering voters includes students groups, like Florida State University’s “Students for Obama.” In fact, Kevin Fahey, an FSU Graduate Student, says he’s been registering people for months and he’s using these last few days to get as many people as possible.
“I’m going to make sure every single person is registered to vote. If they’re a Republican, great! If they’re an independent, great! If they’re a Democrat, great," exclaimed Fahey.
"I actually have a couple friends, both Republicans, who I’m going to hand deliver two forms to make sure they can register to vote. Obviously, I want President Obama to win. But, I think the goal of Democracy is everybody gets their voice heard, everyone votes. If you don’t want to vote, then that’s your decision. But, nobody should be barred from voting because of a piece of paper.”
According to the Florida Department of State, the number of people registering to vote is now averaging between 1,500 and 3,000 a day. But, the state agrees it’s time to get more people registered to vote before the October 9th deadline. It’s working with groups, like the League of Women voters in a new campaign.
Public Service Announcements, like this one, are now circulating all across the state on TV and radio to bolster voter registration drive numbers of all eligible voters in Florida. They’re trying to get as many people signed up as they can before the October 9th deadline, and Secretary of State Ken Detzner says there’s still plenty of time to focus on registering people to vote:
“I like to think about politics and elections a lot like sports. And, sports are seasonal, elections are seasonal," said Detzner.
"I think we’re now entering a period time when people are focusing on the candidates, the conventions are over. We wanted to hit that peak period of time when people’s attention are garnered, and also working with our partners to get them on board. We had to produce our spots, the production is paid for by the state. I think the timing is just about right.”
But, Political Scientist Smith says he not so sure these campaign efforts will be enough. Smith says he foresees problems with voter registration come Election Day, and believes the state, voter registration groups, and political parties will have their work cut out for them.
“Is it going to be enough? I don’t know," said Smith. "I think they’re going to be a lot of unsuspecting registered voters, who go to their polling place on Election Day and realize that their voter registration cards have not been updated, and if you’re registration has not been updated, you’re going to be casting a provisional ballot. In 2008, over half of all the provisional ballots, there are only 35,000 out of the over 8-million votes cast. But, of those over half were rejected as not acceptable. I suspect we’re going to see maybe as many as ten-fold the number of provisional ballots cast.”
Meanwhile, the Republican Party of Florida had hired a firm to help register voters. But, the party is now filing an election fraud complaint against the firm, Strategic Allied Consulting. That came after the Palm Beach County Supervisor of Elections recently alerted prosecutors that the voter registration forms the company handed over looked questionable. And, even more recently, election officials in Escambia and Santa Rosa counties handed over more than 100 suspect forms. Republicans have since fired the vendor. The firm was paid 1.3 million dollars and had been hired to register voters in other crucial swing states.
A spokesman for the Florida Department of State says his agency has heard from other counties as well about the “irregularities on voter registrations, and the state is in the process of reviewing these cases.”
The last day to register voters in Florida is October 9th. A few weeks later, early voting begins on October 27th and will last for eight days.
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