Florida scored a second big victory yesterday (here’s the first one) in federal judge Robert Hinkle’s decision to strike the forty-eight-hour deadline rule for groups handing in voter registration applications. Before Florida’s HB 1355 law was passed last year, completed registration applications could be turned in within ten days, allowing for those staging voter registration drives to do quality control checks to make sure forms were filled out accurately. But under HB 1355, a person wishing to register voters has to first register with the state to obtain an identification number—a provision left untouched by the judges ruling—and then had to turn in voter registration forms in literally forty-right hours after the minute it was signed. That last part is no joke—each voter registration form has to have the third-party registration organization’s state-issued ID number, date, hour and minute of form completion on it. If the form is handed in after the forty-eight-hour window, the registrar could face penalties, in some cases up to $1,000, even if the forms came late because of a natural disaster or car accident or got lost in the mail.
Judge Hinkle called this part of the law “unworkable” and “burdensome” on those practicing their constitutional right to register people to vote. Despite all of the entanglements that came with Florida’s law, the chairman of Florida’s Republican Party Lenny Curry couldn’t see what was wrong with it to begin with. According to news reports, he was disappointed with the judge’s ruling. When I spoke with him earlier this week, days before the ruling, to discuss the prickly details of Florida’s new voter registration rules, and why it may deter some, he said that registering voters in the state was actually “easy.” But the number of states with as many voter registration requirements to comply with: zero.
“It’s not something that’s not easy to comply with,” Curry told me, clearly comfortable with double negatives. “It is very easy to comply with. When groups are registering people to vote, it’s just good controls, you have to have good internal controls in place.”
When asked about the concern that having such a short window would make for less time to do quality-control checks, Curry said: “They ought to get it right on the front end. If you’re going to register voters and make sure that it is United States citizens who are the ones who actually have been registering to vote, you have to invest the time up front. This is how the real world works, how the private sector works and this is how government should work. The real world works on tight deadlines, and we should expect the same in government and on the right to vote.”
Judge Hinkle doesn’t seem to agree with this logic. He wrote in his ruling: “If ‘closed at the end of the 48-hour period’ is what the statute means, it still imposes an onerous, perhaps virtually impossible burden, at least in some instances. If a voter-registration organization collects a voter-registration application at 8:03 a.m. on Saturday and the appropriate voter-registration office is closed for the weekend, reopening at 8:00 a.m. on Monday, must the organization deliver the application to the voter-registration office between 8:00 a.m. and 8:03 a.m. on Monday? If the goal is to discourage voter-registration drives and thus also to make it harder for new voters to register, this may work. Otherwise there is little reason for such a requirement.”
It must be noted that if discouragement is the goal, then it has been working. The New York Times has reported that over 80,000 fewer Floridians have registered to vote as of May 2012 than during the same period before the 2008 elections. Meanwhile, the Brennan Center for Justice reports that black and Latino Floridians are more than twice as likely to register to vote through community-based voter registration drives than white voters, who tend to vote more by absentee ballot. Conservatives claim that these laws are needed to weed out voter fraud, but the ACLU in Florida shows that there more instances of shark attacks than there are fraudulent voting. Politi-Fact backed that up finding only forty-nine investigations—not even convictions—of fraud since 2008.