Republican state legislatures aren’t only trying to prevent voting at the polling place, they are also stopping people from becoming registered voters in the first place. These same laws that require voters to present state issued photo identification at the polling both—nominally aimed at preventing voter fraud—also sometimes contain provisions that are placing onerous requirements and stringent limitations on third party voter registration efforts.
The targets are national and statewide organizations that use volunteers or paid staffers to canvass underrepresented communities to register new voters. Often these voters are young, poor or non-white and thus lean Democratic. A study by the Brennan Center for Justice found, “54 million eligible Americans are not registered to vote. More than 25% of the voting-age citizen population is not registered to vote. Among minority groups, this percentage is even higher— more than 30% for African Americans and more than 40% for Hispanics.” Registration drives typically focuse their efforts on these historically disenfranchised populations, as well as elderly and disabled voters who may have trouble reaching a government office to register. Perversely, as the Brennan Center notes, “Instead of praising civic groups who register voters for their contribution to democracy, many states have cracked down on those groups.”
The excuse is that they wish to prevent fraudulent voter registrations from being submitted. But the result, if these rules are enforced, is that far fewer voters are registered.
In Florida, the New York Times reported on Tuesday, the law has been quite successful:
Florida, which is expected to be a vital swing state once again in this year’s presidential election, is enrolling fewer new voters than it did four years ago as prominent civic organizations have suspended registration drives because of what they describe as onerous restrictions imposed last year by Republican state officials.
The state’s new elections law—which requires groups that register voters to turn in completed forms within 48 hours or risk fines, among other things—has led the state’s League of Women Voters to halt its efforts this year. Rock the Vote, a national organization that encourages young people to vote, began an effort last week to register high school students around the nation—but not in Florida, over fears that teachers could face fines. And on college campuses, the once-ubiquitous folding tables piled high with voter registration forms are now a rarer sight.
The election of 2000 demonstrated how just a few hundred votes in Florida could determine who wins the presidency. Florida’s voter registration law is, of course, facing legal challenges. If the law remains in place, though, it could depress turnout by far more than a few hundred votes.