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Lawsuits on the Go as Voter Registration Drives Halt

December 23, 2011
BILL SCHILLER (bschiller@breezenewspapers.com) , Island Reporter, Captiva Current, Sanibel-Captiva Islander

Florida's League of Women Voters (LWVF) joined forces with Rock the Vote and the Florida Public Interest Research Group Education Fund (PIRG) in the December 15 filing of a federal suit in Tallahassee challenging the state's new restrictions on community-based voter registration initiatives, which they deem to violate both the U.S. Constitution and National Voter Registration Act.

According to a statement provided by the LWVF, the suit follows recent statements made by Attorney General Eric Holder who "specifically pointed to Florida's law as an example of recent legislation that restricts Americans' ability to cast a ballot."

The LWVF, and involved civic groups, characterized their actions as coming from "the front lines" in the defense of a "moral imperative," siding with Holder who said, "Protecting this right, ensuring meaningful access and combating discrimination must be viewed, not only as a legal issue but as a moral imperative."

Restrictions were enacted earlier this year when legislators approved House Bill 1355, which included a range of election law changes now being characterized as "extremely burdensome" in administrative requirements and "unreasonably tight deadlines for submission of completed forms" that ultimately pose penalties for delays and/or mistakes.

According to the statement, "These restrictions are so unnecessarily harsh that they have forced the League of Women Voters and Rock the Vote, among other groups, to shut down their voter registration programs in Florida."

The LWVF's voter registration drives, which are non-partisan, had been in practice for more than 72 years. LWVF President Deirdre Macnab says, "Florida's anti-voter Law creates impassable roadblocks for our volunteers, who are simply trying to bring fellow citizens into our democratic process. Today, we take a stand against these unacceptable barriers to voting and voter registration."

Fact Box

Important Election Dates:

Presidential Preference Primary: January 31, 2012

Voter Registration Deadline: January 3, 2012.

Florida Primary: August 14, 2012

Voter Registration Deadline: July 16

General Election: November 6, 2012

Voter Registration Deadline: October 9, 2012.

Heather Smith, the President of Rock the Vote (recognized as representing America's largest organization of young voters) echoed Macnab and said, "We are outraged at these new laws that will prevent opportunities for youth civic participation; it is simply un-American."

PIRG Advocate Brad Ashwell, in making a point about typically low voter turnout in Florida, expressed concern that new laws will "inevitably lead to fewer voters at the polls."

Together, they claim the new restrictions are "an attempt to regulate voter registration drives out of existence by burying such efforts in red tape and threatening volunteer-based organizations with massive

fines."

Attorneys of The Brennan Center for Justice, along with The League of Women Voters, additionally filed lawsuits involving two prior Florida laws pertaining to community-based voter registration. "This law represents Florida legislators' third attempt in six years to drown voter registration groups in regulation," wrote Counsel for the Brennan Center's Democracy Program Lee Rowland. "It is unfortunate that we have had to represent Florida's leading voter registration groups, not once, or twice, but three times in fighting back against the Florida legislature's repeated attempts to stifle access to voter registration opportunities."

According to the court filing, the new restrictions are specifically said: to violate constitutionally protected rights of speech and association; to fail in the adequate provision of notice as to how people comply with "confusing and unclear mandates"; and finally, as violating the National Voter Registration Act, which they maintain was "a federal law designed in part to encourage community-based voter registration activity."

The State of Florida has reportedly requested a panel of federal judges in Washington, D.C., to "preclear" H.B. 1355 components under the Voting Rights Act. Under the Act, the State must have federal permission prior to implementing election law changes in any five of Florida's counties, with proof the laws, neither purposely nor unintentionally, pose negative impact on minority voters. This matter has since created another, separate lawsuit, involving organizations that include the LWVF.

Local Reaction

Linda Kramer, President of the Sanibel Captiva League of Women Voters, says the local organization is "fully supporting" efforts at the state and national levels of The League, adding "the issues are too important to not support."

She anticipates matters to be further discussed locally as members actively monitor events from court proceedings.

Addressing changes in election laws and the significance of 2012 as an important election year, the LWV of Sanibel is currently urging voters to update their voter status with the launch of a "Be Ready To Vote" Action Campaign.

According to League Voter Service Chair Dick Calkins, "The new election law makes both voting and voter registration harder in Florida. What can voters do? We urge all voters to check their registration and make sure it is up to date."

The League has created a new website at www.BeReadyToVote.org where voters can not only check their registration, but also update their address, or names, or request a vote by mail ballot.

Voters can additionally update their voter status by contacting the Supervisor of Elections at 239-leevote (533-8683).

 
 

 

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