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From the staff of the Tampa Bay Times

Some states are making voting much easier, but Florida isn't one of them

Don Morris, Times

31

December

This November in Austin, Texas, voters will pick a president during their regular trip to the grocery store.

Maine residents who have never voted will register on Election Day. Every Colorado voter will get a ballot in the mail that they can mail or drop off anytime before the polls close. And some Alaskans will simply mark their ballots online.

More and more, waiting in line at a neighborhood school or church to vote on a Tuesday in November is becoming archaic. Around the country, states are changing their laws accordingly, hoping to make casting a ballot as convenient as possible.

And then there's Florida, a state that has shunned same-day voter registration and vote centers as an alternative to busy precincts. Residents here have to request a mail-in ballot every other election year or set aside time to go to a polling place.

"We have a state that has a history of disenfranchising voters," said Pamela Goodman, president of the League of Women Voters of Florida. "We have to continually be on the watch for legislation that moves us backward instead of forward."

Florida has developed a reputation for its long lines well into the night on Election Day in 2012 and for rarely granting voting rights to felons who have served their full sentences. But perhaps the biggest hurdle facing potential voters, Goodman said, is the state's resistance to allowing voter registration on Election Day.

Pasco County Supervisor of Elections Brian Corley disagrees with the critics, saying it's not fair to paint Florida as behind-the-times. Rather, he said, programs like early voting, mail-in ballots and online voter registration set to begin in 2017 make it more convenient for people to vote in Florida than many other states.

"I think Florida to some degree gets unfairly criticized," Corley said. "We talk about things such as early voting… Some states have restrictions on voting by mail."

Increasingly, Florida's nearly 12 million voters are turning to those alternatives. In the 2012 and 2014 elections, more ballots were cast at early-voting locations or via mail than in person on Election Day.

Still, some voting rights advocates contend that Florida ought to do more to bring elections into the 21st century. Reforming Election Day access and voter registration laws, they say, could ease difficulties faced by some of the very people who are most likely to be turned off to the political process, namely young and minority voters.

"I tend to want to start with the positive," Goodman said, "but we certainly have many battles yet to climb."

Read the full story, part of the Times/Herald's "The Florida voter" series, here.

[Last modified: Thursday, December 31, 2015 3:35pm]

    

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