Florida Rightwing Attempts to Suppress Voting Rights with Election Restrictions

Just weeks before the end of the legislative session, rightwing lawmakers in Florida are advancing omnibus legislation that progressive voting rights advocates and legislators see as yet another scheme to reduce voter turnout and manipulate election rules to the benefit of conservatives.  The omnibus legislation was sprung on unsuspecting legislators and advocates the day before it was voted on in a Senate committee, where only a few minutes of debate were allowed before a party-line vote. 

Touted as a collection of "anti-fraud" measures, SB 956/HB 7149 the bill is actually designed to put barriers in the way of registering and voting on election day, including:

  • Removing identification from retirement centers and neighborhood associations identification from the list of acceptable voter ID which would have a devastating impact on elderly and disabled voters.
  • First-time voters would not be able prove their identity at the polls on election day, but would have to provide it before election day, a requirement that no other state has.
  • Requiring voter registration forms collected by third parties to be submitted within 48 hours of when they are filled out.  This provision and the associated penalties would effectively shut down independent voter registration drives in Florida, something the state has tried to do before.
  • Force voters who move within a month of election day to vote by provisional ballot.

The bill would also substantially reduce the accountability of politicians and prevent the full and accurate counting of ballots as a matter of policy:

  • County party chairmen will have the exclusive right to designate poll watchers.
  • People "offering legal advice regarding voting or ballots" are specifically prevented from communicating with voters inside or outside a polling place or in line to vote.
  • Political committees registered in other states are exempted from complying with campaign finance laws.
  • Slush funds for political leaders to make unregulated donations to other politicians are specifically allowed by the bill, reversing an earlier prohibition.
  • Puts a strict, one-week limit on the duration of any post-election audits of ballots; and mandates that elections will be certified a week and a half after a primary and two weeks after a general election, regardless of whether all votes have been counted or recounted.
  • Makes the unelected Secretary of State solely responsible for ordering a recount in all but local elections.

Bill Condemned Throughout State: This toxic stew of provisions have raised considerable ire in the state and nationally, with editorial boards, labor leaders, voting rights activists, and lawmakers railing against this naked power grab in the guise of election reform.  Commenting on the less than six minutes of debate and 60 seconds of public input that led to a vote in committee, Rich Templin, executive director of the Florida AFL-CIO, said "[t]hey are certainly violating any premise of good government, any premise of open government, any premise of transparency, or the cornerstones of representative democracy."  Regarding the substance of the measure Templin opined that "[t]his bill should really be called the Florida Democracy Reduction Act. It is designed to reduce people’s participation, to reduce people voting, and to reduce people’s access to the process."  Republican Governor Charlie Crist is unhappy with the legislation's disenfranchising elements.  While not issuing a veto threat, he had the following to say:

"The more opportunity you give people to vote, the better it is for democracy. So that aspect of it concerns me...It always seems to me that when there may be legislation that attempts to sort of make it harder for people to do something — the people that we work for —  generally that’s not good. I don’t look on that in a favorable light and that is true of this particular part of this legislation."

Attempts to twist voting rules to suppress voter turnout are not surprising given the thumping that conservatives have taken at the polls in recent years.  And while Florida is once again leading the pack in shady voting changes, it is in keeping with similar tactics of suppressing voter drives, loosening campaign regulations, and using ID requirements to thwart elderly voters, that have surfaced in other states.

Florida Senate Bill 956
St. Petersburg Times - With Little Discussion, Florida House Council Passes Sweeping Changes to Voting Rules
St. Petersburg Times - GOP Power Grab is an Affront to Voters
New York Times - Suppressing the Vote in Florida
AFL-CIO - Legislators Restricting Voter Access in Florida