On Voter Registration Day, a new report looks at how states restrict voter registration

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click to enlarge Talking about voter registration at the Student Government table during today's event at USF. - Chip Weiner
Chip Weiner
Talking about voter registration at the Student Government table during today's event at USF.

You're forgiven if it didn't dawn on you that today is Voter Registration Day, sponsored by a coalition of voter advocacy groups such as the League of Women Voters, Rock the Vote and Voto Latino. Hundreds of events were organized today to concentrate on getting people registered to vote in this November's midterm election, and locally an event was held in front of the Marshall Center on the USF Tampa campus.

Pinellas County state Representative Kathleen Peters was on hand to talk up the importance of voting, but curiously, no Democrat made an appearance at the nonpartisan gathering.

In Florida today, the state's 67 election supervisors released a report that calls on the Legislature to create a new system of online voter registration next year, a process that 20 other states already allow their citizens to access. However the SOE's say it would be "prudent" to delay such implementation until after the 2016 presidential election, more than two years from now.

Also today, Project Vote has released a new national report that examines the restrictions imposed by many states — including Florida — on efforts to help eligible citizens become registered voters.

“Since the civil rights era, voter registration drives have played a key role in bringing unregistered Americans and underrepresented populations into the electorate,” says Michael Slater, executive director for Project Vote. “However, that legacy is now under attack from partisan policy makers who want to make conducting a registration drive prohibitively expensive and risky.”

In Restricting Voter Registration Drives, Project Vote attorneys Stephen Mortellaro and Michelle Kanter Cohen examine what they refer to as "the legislative backlash that followed the voter registration surges of the 2008 election," and how many states have imposed laws that severely hinder efforts to reach eligible, unregistered Americans.

Burdensome training requirements, overly narrow submission deadlines, restrictions on who is allowed to canvass, and proof-of-citizenship requirements are  some of the policy hurdles that have made voter registration efforts more costly, more risky, and more difficult to conduct, says the report. 

In Florida, the GOP-led Legislature passed HB1355, which reduced the amount of early voting days; dramatically reduced the time for third party groups like the League of Women Voters to turn in voter registration cards to the Division of Elections in Tallahassee; and denied registered voters the right to file a change-of-address form on Election Day, instead permitting them only a provisional vote, meaning their ballots would not be counted till after the Election.

A court struck down the voter registration deadline, and after a negative backlash from the 2012 elections, the same Legislature addressed some of the most egregious parts of the 2011 bill in a new elections bill in 2013, and returned early voting to 14 days.

The deadline to register for the November 4 election is October 6.

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