Florida League to Halt Voter Registration Under New Law

Deidre Macnab, president of the League of Women Voters of Florida.
TAMPA (2011-5-9) -

The Florida League of Women Voters says it will halt one of its primary missions - registering voters – due to recent legislation. It could become the first state chapter in the nation to do so.

Seventy-two years – that’s how long the Florida League of Women Voters has been registering voters. But, Florida president Deidre Macnab is ready to stop signing up them up if newly passed legislation becomes law.

“It’s because of the red-tape and the punitive restrictions that have been put in place,” Macnab said. “That, very candidly, we felt were designed not to control it as much as to suppress voter registration and to entrap groups and individuals.”

The Florida League legally challenged similar legislative election changes in 2005 and won, according to Macnab. “We will indeed be exploring and investigating litigation which is the last route we wanted to take that ends up utilizing taxpayer money.”

The proposal, House Bill 1355, is complex and changes several election laws. On voter registration, it requires any group registering voters to take an oath, to track every blank registration form and return signed forms within 48 hours. And if groups don’t comply, they face fines up to $1,000 and possible civil prosecution.

It will affect more than just the League of Women Voters. Boy Scouts, faith groups and high school civic clubs register voters.

“It’s a pretty American activity,” said Darden Rice, president of the St. Petersburg chapter. “It’s an American voter service pastime if you will to go pick up a stack of voter registration forms and to go out and get your friends and family to vote. This law is really meant to correct some abuses that just don’t exist.”

Abuses like voter fraud are exactly why State Sen. Mike Bennett of Bradenton backed the legislation.

“Every time you turn around there’s accusations of fraud. We’ve had it in Sarasota we’ve had it all over the state of Florida,” Bennett said. “So anything we can do to clean up fraud, even the thought that there might be some fraud involved, I think is good.”

As recently as 2009, Miami-Dade accused 11 field workers for ACORN of falsifying hundreds of voter applications. That’s because ACORN notified the authorities about the suspicious forms.

Bennett blames most of the fraud on the workers who get paid for registering voters, not volunteer organizations like the League. He thinks the legislation will help weed-out those who do it for money.

“We don’t think the people who get paid are going to go through the extra effort that’s really what we’re trying to do is cut down on voter fraud,” Bennett said.

When told that the League of Women Voters of Florida plans to quit collecting voter applications, Bennett called it a shame. “I would hope that they would develop the courage to continue to do what they do. They certainly do a lot of good and I would like to see them continue to sign up people who want to vote.”

What Bennett and other lawmakers consider voter fraud prevention, St. Petersburg League president Darden Rice called suppression and un-American.

“Anti-fraud is a guise in trying to pass these voter suppression laws that are really meant to make it more difficult for people to vote,” Rice said. “The League of Women Voters thinks that these laws these proposed laws are anti-democratic anti-American.”

Bennett calls that the League’s interpretation of the legislation. But he said if there are unintended consequences like drops in voter registration rolls after an election cycle or two then he’s willing to fix them.

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