Early voting in Orange County runs Saturday, Jan. 21, through Saturday, Jan. 28. The only early voting location in the Winter Park/Maitland area is the Winter Park Library, 460 E. New England Ave., Winter Park (10 a.m. – 7 p.m. every day). Visit www.orangecountyvotes.com
Last summer, almost 16,000 Floridians called and sent emails urging Gov. Rick Scott to veto a regressive new elections law passed during the 2011 legislative session. Disregarding those messages, the governor approved the law and urged immediate and unprecedented implementation.
The new regulations are so troubling to the League of Women Voters of Florida that we have instituted a statewide suspension of voter registration activities even though we have been successfully registering voters in this state for more than 70 years. Florida has made tremendous progress since the infamous 2000 election — ensuring a paper trail, investing in new machinery and creating a statewide electronic voter database — so it is particularly disappointing to see our state go back in time.
The most egregious provisions of the law include a cut in the number of early voting days from 14 to eight, a requirement that voters who have moved to a different county vote by provisional ballot at the polls, and unnecessarily burdensome rules for third-party voter registration groups like the League. Very simply, the law transforms core civic participation — something our government should be encouraging — into a mountain of risk and red tape.
For example, the law requires voter registration groups to confront volunteers with a sworn affidavit threatening third-degree felony penalties and possible jail time and fines if voter registration laws are violated. In addition, the law stipulates an unrealistic 48-hour turnaround for registration forms, meaning volunteers could spend more time delivering and tracking completed forms than actually registering voters. This kind of voter suppression law sets up impassable roadblocks for groups like the League and will prevent eligible voters in Florida from becoming part of our democratic process.
Our part-time volunteers simply do not have an attorney on one hand and an administrative assistant on the other to help them navigate these treacherous and complex rules and regulations. In Santa Rosa and Volusia counties, two public school teachers already have been entrapped by these rules as they tried to help students register to vote.
This law does nothing to make Florida elections more secure. It simply makes it harder to get eligible voters into our democratic process. Florida already has reliable systems and procedures in place to ensure the integrity of our elections, and this law puts new and unnecessary burdens on our elections officials. Indeed, some county supervisors of elections have joined a lawsuit opposing the law. To fight this kind of voter suppression, the League has two lawsuits pending that challenge the legality of such legislation.
On the eve of a major national election, Florida should be looking for ways to streamline voting, not creating chaos and confusion for voters and groups that perform voter registration, which could result in voters being left out and votes not being counted. The bottom line: The new elections law will be difficult to enforce, will cost taxpayer money and will keep eligible voters out of the democratic process.
To ensure that your vote counts, we encourage all Florida citizens to visit BeReadyToVote.org to check your voter status or register to vote. Check back throughout the election season for updates on election dates, early voting locations and voter guide information.
Deirdre Macnab is the president of the League of Women Voters of Florida and Ann Hellmuth is the president of the League of Women Voters of Orange County.