ST. PETERSBURG — Veteran League of Women Voters volunteer Mary Berglund had been registering voters since 1986, until the civic group a year ago abruptly halted its 72-year practice in the face of a new Florida law restricting voter registration campaigns.
"It just seemed so unfair and was so unexpected,'' Berglund said of the 2011 state law that, among other things, imposed stiff fines for groups that failed to submit voter registration forms within 48 hours of obtaining them.
But Berglund and her civic-minded colleagues gathered in front of a Pinellas elections office Wednesday to announce they are getting back in the game. After a federal judge last week temporarily blocked parts of that new elections law as violations of the First Amendment, the League of Women Voters and other groups are resuming their nonpartisan registration efforts.
"We're going to dust off our clip boards, and pick up the forms and get into the business of registering people to vote," declared St. Petersburg League of Women Voters President Darden Rice. "Registering citizens to vote is part of our core mission, and we're excited to get back to work."
At a similar news conference in Orlando, organizers were joined by officials from the nonpartisan group Rock the Vote, which also is resuming Florida voter registration efforts in the wake of last week's court ruling.
Rock the Vote president Heather Smith said her group registered 100,000 young voters in Florida in 2008 and still should be able to surpass that total this year. Deirdre Macnab, president of the Florida League of Women Voters, estimated her organization, which also emphasizes educating voters about issues and candidates, registers tens of thousands of people each cycle.
The voter registration groups still will face more restrictions than they've been accustomed to, including registering with elections offices and submitting the names of every volunteer collecting voter registration forms.
"There is going to be a significantly greater amount of record-keeping than we had in the past. We hope that it is a manageable,'' said Macnab. "Our volunteers want to put in an hour or two. They don't want to do a lot of administrative record-keeping."
Adam C. Smith can be reached at [email protected]