Who can vote? Florida's reworked voting laws come only after fierce court fights
Democrats say Republicans make it harder for everyone to vote, but the GOP says its main concerns are election security and preventing fraud.
John Kennedy, Gannett Capital Bureau
2020欧洲杯正规平台TALLAHASSEE – Florida is viewed by elections experts as among the more progressive states when it comes to making it easy for voters to cast ballots. But most of these voter access wins have come only after fierce court fights.
A voter-approved constitutional amendment allowing felons to regain their voting rights is the latest clash, with an April federal trial the likely next step in determining whether 1.4 million disenfranchised Floridians can cast ballots.
2020欧洲杯正规平台State lawmakers predict the fight over a law requiring felons to pay court fines, fees and restitution before regaining voting rights .
“Lawmakers are often driven by who they think is going to vote for them when making decisions about expanding or restricting access to the ballot. That’s exactly the wrong approach to be taking,” said Sean Morales-Doyle, a senior counsel with the Brennan Center for Justice at the New York University School of Law, which is among the organizations suing the state over the felons’ law.
Florida's reworked voting laws come only after fierce court fights
USA Today's Florida Capital Reporter John Kennedy discusses how Republicans have seemingly tried to limit access to voting for many. The controversy over legislation allowing felons to vote is the latest example.
Tori Lynn Schneider and Tim Walters, Florida Today
Morales-Doyle’s criticism centers on the measure signed by Gov. Ron DeSantis last spring that lets felons register to vote only after paying all their court costs. Opponents say this will continue to bar most from voting.
In a setback for DeSantis and Florida’s ruling Republicans, a federal appeals panel recently upheld a lower court ruling2020欧洲杯正规平台 that declared such payment demands unconstitutional, setting the battle on course for trial.
Still, claims that the GOP is tilting the table in state elections have kept Florida in the national spotlight for two decades, since a 537-vote, court-challenged win in the state by Republican George W. Bush gave him the White House.
In each case, critics echoed the charge that Florida Republicans were trying to limit who can vote in a state where shifting demographics and rising ethnic diversity appear to be working against the party and its candidates.
2020欧洲杯正规平台“There is a pattern here of a conservative Legislature and a conservative governor making voter laws that are subsequently challenged in court and struck down,” said Daniel Smith, a University of Florida political scientist who has testified on behalf of plaintiffs in many of these cases, including the felons’ voting lawsuit.
“An irony of this overreach is that it has led to lawsuits which have expanded the right to vote in this state.”
Balancing security and the right to vote
Republicans, though, don’t see the clash so starkly. Most of these laws, they argue, have tried to balance the constitutional right to vote with the need to maintain election security and prevent possible fraud.
Research, though, shows that voter fraud is rare and that many instances of alleged fraud stem from mistakes made by voters or administrators. Democrats and their allies view the push by Republicans for stricter voter laws as aimed at suppressing ballot access.
Rep. Jamie Grant, R-Tampa, who helped shape the felons’ voting legislation, dismissed critics who claim it’s designed to keep Democratic-leaning voters from casting ballots. He predicts the measure ultimately will prove “politically irrelevant.”
“It’s a wash. Just as many Republicans may register to vote under the law as Democrats,” Grant said. “Republicans looking to maintain control has nothing to do with it.”
David Johnson, a longtime Florida Republican consultant, also defended his party’s track record.
2020欧洲杯正规平台“A lot of the changes made over the past 20 years have been done by Republicans,” Johnson said. “Before Republicans acted, there was no early voting, no standardization of election laws governing recounts – all things that the Republican Legislature did after 2000.
“The change to no-excuse absentee voting was done by Republicans. There’s no question we have improved voter access in Florida to where it’s among the best in the nation,” he said.
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But some reworking of elections law in recent years continues to inflame Democrats and their allies.
In 2011, then-Gov. Rick Scott signed into law a measure that cut nearly by half the number of early voting days, which Democrats said was an attempt to hurt President Barack Obama’s reelection bid. Democratic-leaning minority voters had been heavy users of early voting, especially turning out on the last Sunday before Election Day, which was eliminated by the change.
Long lines of voters caused chaos in some counties during the 2012 presidential election, with criticism cascading onto Scott and the Republican Legislature, who were accused of working to deny people a chance to vote.
2020欧洲杯正规平台Scott and lawmakers reinstated the longer early voting period the next year.
Last spring, the Legislature did respond with an overhaul following the 2018 elections, which were marked by recounts in three statewide races – an unprecedented event in Florida that also underscored the volatility of state contests.
2020欧洲杯正规平台Changes included moving the date of Florida’s primary election to a week earlier and expanding the amount of time for voters to request and receive vote-by-mail ballots. The new law also gives voters two days after an election to prove their identity if the signature on the ballot envelope doesn’t match what’s on file with elections officials.
The law also creates ballot design standards to avoid the kind of confusion seen in Broward County, where some voters complained of missing the U.S. Senate race because of where it was placed. Problems with ballot design occasionally flare in Florida, with Palm Beach County’s famed “butterfly ballot” playing a central role in the 2000 presidential recount.
Bad ballot design was among many criticisms leveled at Broward County Elections Supervisor Brenda Snipes, a Democrat, who resigned after being suspended by Scott following the 2018 races.
Differing views on voter access
Across Florida, the fastest-growing cohort of registered voters is those who claim no-party affiliation, which presents a tricky wild card for both leading political parties.
But there also may be a fundamental difference between how voters from the two parties see the importance of making it easy to cast ballots.
Fewer than half of conservative Republicans support these steps – 35% for Election Day registration, 45% for automatic registration – according to the survey.
California’s automatic system2020欧洲杯正规平台 resulted in more than 100,000 registration errors its first year in operation, including registering non-citizens and assigning some voters to the wrong party.
Still, same-day voter registration and automatic voter registration are both seen as reducing some of the problems that surface with the increasing use of mail-in ballots and voters showing up at the wrong polling place on Election Day.
2020欧洲杯正规平台Arriving at the wrong poll forces voters to cast provisional ballots, which people fear might not be counted.
2020欧洲杯正规平台Twenty-one states and the District of Columbia use same-day registration, meaning voters can register to vote and cast a ballot the same day. In Florida, voters must register at least 29 days before an election to vote.
2020欧洲杯正规平台Same-day registration tends to increase turnout, experts say.
2020欧洲杯正规平台Similarly, automatic voter registration is catching on. It’s a variation of the motor-voter law from the 1990s that lets people register to vote when applying for or renewing a driver’s license.
2020欧洲杯正规平台With automatic registration, people would be registered as voters automatically when they interact with the state’s Department of Highway Safety & Motor Vehicles, instead of opting-in to register, as they do now. Of course, people could specifically ask not to be enrolled.
How other states are improving voter access
Many states have adopted progressive ideas that allow people to vote easier, including same day voter registration and automatic voter registration. Florida is not one of them.
Tori Lynn Schneider and Tim Walters, Florida Today
Automatic registration would help allow digital information to be electronically transferred to the voter registration database, making for cleaner voter rolls because the process updates registrations with current addresses.
The approach is seen as reducing common Election Day complaints about mismatched addresses and would get voters on the rolls quickly, analysts say.
While used in 16 states, automatic registration seems far off in Florida. Still, the state’s recent joining of the multi-state, voter data-sharing Electronic Registration Information Center (ERIC) may help with the accuracy of voter rolls, analysts say.
Felons voting law keeps Republicans and Democrats apart
The Amendment 4 fight, now in its second year, also looks certain to keep Democrats and Republicans at odds. A federal judge last fall called Florida’s felons’ voting law an “administrative nightmare” and urged lawmakers to revamp it before the scheduled April trial.
2020欧洲杯正规平台But a leading Republican on the measure, Sen. Jeff Brandes of St. Petersburg, said lawmakers from his party have no plans to do that. Instead, he forecast an even longer legal clash that eventually goes to the nation’s highest court.
2020欧洲杯正规平台Confusion with the law, and the certainty that any federal rulings will be appealed, is likely to keep many felons from registering during this election year, analysts said.
Susan MacManus, a University of South Florida political scientist who studies the state’s electorate, said ruling Republicans struggle with “the optics of saying they are defending against voter fraud when it can look like they’re trying to keep some people from voting.”