Recently, Florida lawmakers passed a comprehensive elections bill containing new limitations on organizations that register voters. This development has caused concern among voting rights experts who believe the new measures could make registering and participating in future elections more challenging for people of color in the state. While the legislation, known as SB 7050, includes a high-profile provision allowing Governor Ron DeSantis to retain his position while aiming for the GOP presidential nomination. However, it also introduces other changes to state law that may significantly impact the operations of voter registration groups. The GOP-led legislature has approved the bill and awaits the governor’s signature.
The new elections bill also contains a provision that would shift the burden of demonstrating eligibility to individual Floridians seeking to cast their ballots. This move comes after twenty convicted felons were arrested for allegedly voting illegally in the 2020 election. Some of the defendants have claimed that they believed the voter identification cards they received from state officials served as proof that their voting rights had been restored. The proposed change would include disclaimer language on such cards to address this issue, stating that they don’t constitute legal verification of voting eligibility.
The new restrictions on groups that register voters in Florida, recently passed by lawmakers, have been met with apprehension by voting rights experts who fear that it could make it more challenging for people of color in the state to register & vote in the future.#votingrights pic.twitter.com/lvr1iJhxA7
— News Live (@NewsLiveFree) May 4, 2023
Third-party Voter Registration
The change may affect individual voters; much of the bill’s focus is on limiting the activities of third-party voter registration groups. The new elections bill includes several provisions that target third-party voter registration groups in Florida. One such provision shortens these organizations’ time to turn in any registration forms they collect, reducing it from 14 to just ten days. Additionally, the bill introduces daily late fees for each delayed application. Voter registration groups must now register with the state in each general election cycle instead of the current one-time registration requirement. They must also provide a receipt to each registered voter. The legislation also makes it illegal for specific individuals, such as those convicted of certain felonies or non-citizens, including permanent legal residents, to collect or handle voter registration applications.
The new elections bill in Florida introduces significant financial penalties for voter registration groups that violate the law. Organizations violating the legislation could face fines of up to $250,000 annually. Any organization that employs ineligible individuals in the registration process could face fines of up to $50,000. According to Abdelilah Shkir, voting rights policy strategist for the ACLU of Florida, the maximum financial penalty for violations has increased dramatically in recent years. Just two years ago, organizations faced an annual penalty of only $1000. Shkir believes that this sharp increase in fines will deter many potential groups from registering voters in the state.
Voter Registration Restrictions for Preventing Fraud
Florida’s new voter registration restrictions have drawn criticism from voting rights advocates, but Republican State Senator Danny Burgess defends the changes. As the chairman of the Senate ethics and elections panel, Burgess led the bill through the Senate and argued that the measures are necessary to prevent fraud and identify theft. During Senate Floor debates, he pointed to instances of three groups in two countries stealing voter information during the 2022 election cycle. Burgess contends that the strict fines imposed under the new law will deter potential violators and make them “think twice” before breaking the rules. Despite criticism from voting rights experts, Burgess asserts that these measures are essential to protecting the integrity of the electoral process.
Republican State Senator Burgess has defended the new elections bill in Florida, denying that it will suppress voters’ rights. Burgess argues that the restrictions aim to prevent fraud and illegal activities by those who collect voters’ personal information during registration. He asserts that the legislation will not make it harder for lawfully registered voters to cast their ballots. Burgess also suggests that the bill makes it harder for “bad actors” to interfere with voting. However, some experts, including the University of Florida political scientist Daniel Smith, warn that the new rules could disproportionately affect non-White communities in Florida.
According to research by the University of Florida political scientist Daniel Smith, approximately one in ten Black and Latino voters in Florida registered to vote through a third-party group in 2021. These groups were also five times more popular among Black and Latino voters than White voters in the state. Smith believes the new legislation could significantly impact voter registration measures by non-partisan groups in Florida, citing the high penalties and costs associated with the new regulations. Smith argues that these penalties may discourage these groups from conducting the important work of registering thousands of eligible voters in the state.
Concerns of Third-party Voter Registration Groups
Florida lawmakers have passed several new restrictions on voting, making it the third year in a row that the state has altered its election laws. The changes come as Florida becomes an increasingly important presidential battleground that has favored Republicans. In 2021, the state passed a broad law that introduced limits on requesting and returning mail ballots. Last year, at the direction of Gov. Ron DeSantis, the state established a new agency to police election violations. This year, a separate bill gave state prosecutors expanded power to pursue individuals for election violations. These changes follow allegations of election fraud against 20 ex-felons, some of which encountered legal issues.
Cecile Scoon, the head of the League of Women Voters in Florida, expressed her concerns that the new bill will become a “barrier to voting.” She revealed that her organization must change its policies and training to comply with the new regulations. However, she still determines the consequence of some of the bill’s language. One particular instance aims to prevent identity theft by making it a felony for an individual to retain personal details about the voter they registered on behalf of a group. However, Scoon mentioned that some organizations follow up with the individuals they helped register to ensure they received their voter registration cards or cast their ballots. She added that this activity could be jeopardized under the new legislation.