Last May 19, Gov. Rick Scott signed into law a 158-page bill that significantly scaled back voting rights gains of the last several decades.
“I want people to vote, but I also want to make sure there’s no fraud involved in elections,” Scott said in Tallahassee as he signed the bill. But there was no documented fraud of any concern in the state. Supervisor of Elections across the state disputed the claim that their databases were inaccurate or needed buttressing and warned of chaos ahead because of the new rules.
The law, widely seen as an attempt by the GOP-dominated legislature to make it harder to vote for those who tend to be Democratic, reduces early voting–an increasingly popular option in Flagler County–from 15 days to eight (in the mayoral election last month, a third of votes cast were in early voting). The law imposes $1,000-per-mistake fines on groups that register voters when the registration forms aren’t submitted within 48 hours, and requires those groups to register with the state. The law also eliminates a four-decade-old policy that allowed registered voters who have moved across county lines to update their address the day they vote. And it turns back voting rights granted ex-felons who’ve paid their debt, rights that had been secured by a cabinet vote during Gov. Charlie Crist’s administration.
Florida is one of 14 states that passed similarly sweeping laws. The legislature of every state that did so, with one exception, is dominated by Republicans. Rhode Island is the exception, where a Democratic legislature enacted its voting rights revamp and an independent governor signed the bill into law. The bills drew overwhelming opposition from constituents. In Florida, the voting bill drew more responses than any other in the last session, netting 15,443 emails to the governor’s office alone–overwhelmingly in opposition to the new law. “This is the most undemocratic, regressive, anti-voter, partisan proposal I have ever seen in my memory,” went one email, by Gainesville resident Joe T. McCullough Jr.
It was clear the laws would have some effect on the 2012 election’s turnout, since every law is designed to make voting more difficult and more discriminating–not more inclusive or easier. But it was not clear until today to what potential extent the laws would affect turnout. The Brennan Center for Justice at New York University School of Law has now calculated that effect as part of a 58-page study released today. (See the full study below.)
According to the study’s conclusions, “These new restrictions fall most heavily on young, minority, and low-income voters, as well as on voters with disabilities. This wave of changes may sharply tilt the political terrain for the 2012 election. Based on the Brennan Center’s analysis of the 18 laws and two executive actions that passed in 13 states, it is clear that:
- These new laws could make it significantly harder for more than five million eligible voters to cast ballots in 2012.
- The states that have already cut back on voting rights will provide 165 electoral votes in 2012 – 61 percent of the 270 needed to win the presidency.
- Of the 12 likely battleground states, as assessed by an August Los Angeles Times analysis of Gallup polling, four have already cut back on voting rights (and may pass additional restrictive legislation), and two more are currently considering new restrictions.
Some 3.2 million voters will be affected by new photo ID laws nationwide. That requirement had already been in effect in Florida. One to 2 million voters will be affected by the change to early voting days, which will significantly impact Florida. And at least 100,000 disenfranchised voters, most of them in Florida, could have regained their voting rights by the 2012 election had the state not intervened to prevent them from doing so. Of the 2.13 million people who registered to vote in 2008 in Florida, more than 8 percent, or at least 176,000, did so through organizations such as the League of Women Voters–and helped power Barack Obama to the presidency. Florida tipped in Obama’s favor in that election.
The League of Women Voters, a leading voting-registration organization, has all but halted its registration drives in Florida for fear of being slapped with outsized fines. Texas is the only other state to take measures against third-party voter registration organizations, as Florida did.
The vote on the elections bill in the Florida House was 77-38, and 25-13 in the Senate, with Democratic opposition and only Republican Sens. Mike Fasano of New Port Richey and Paula Dockery of Lakeland voting no. “Florida has always been a state that has been open in having access to voting for legal residents. In fact, we brag about that,” Fasano told the St. Petersburg Times. “This bill reduces that access.”