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New election law still stings Hillsborough County's League of Women Voters

TAMPA — With the sting still fresh from a new election law that affects the way the League of Women Voters operates, members of the group heard suggestions Saturday on how to work with the law while still hoping for its repeal.

Florida's new election law, which went into effect in most counties last month, requires that groups wishing to sign up new voters register their volunteers with the state. They face fines of up to $1,000 for not submitting voting forms within 48 hours.

The League of Women Voters, for whom a main priority is voter registration, suspended the activity in Florida because of the law's restrictions.

In five counties, including Hillsborough, the law won't go into effect until the U.S. Justice Department approves it because of past voting rights problems in those areas.

Hillsborough County Supervisor of Elections Earl Lennard, who spoke Saturday at the annual meeting of the league's Hillsborough County chapter, said he is confident federal officials will make the right decision.

"I think the Department of Justice will be very mindful in its deliberations and will look at any and all aspects of the law that would have negative effects on voters," he said.

In the meantime, Lennard said his office is figuring out how to implement the new rules, which also include reducing early voting from 15 to eight days and requiring some voters who have moved to cast provisional ballots.

He suggested the League of Women Voters plan for it, too.

"We can work together to register voters," Lennard said. Supervisor of Elections Office employees could come to League of Women Voters' events to register voters directly, he said, avoiding so-called third-party registration altogether.

Many of the league's members hope a resolution can be reached before that.

"We are still hopeful that the issues will be resolved," said Mickey Castor, president of the group's Hillsborough County chapter.

Former state Sen. Helen Gordon Davis agrees.

"It's just sickening what they have done," she said. "Now many people won't get to the polls, and people who do get there will be turned away."

Gordon Davis said she recently donated money to the American Civil Liberties Union to help appeal the law in court.

Al Davis, a civic activist from Tampa, said he worries about the driving force behind such a restrictive bill.

"What were the benefits they thought these massive changes would be for the people of Florida?" he asked. "I can only think they wanted to do damage."

Sponsors of the bill in this spring's legislative session have said it would help guard against voting fraud in Florida.

Because of his job, Lennard said he won't express his opinion on the law.

"I don't have the luxury of saying how I feel about it," Lennard said. "I have to administer the law as it is written."

When the Justice Department's decision comes in August, he must do his job either way, he said.

"The whole objective of our Supervisor of Elections Office is to get people to vote, to help them vote, to make it a convenience to vote," he said, "and to make the voting experience a good one."

Shelley Rossetter can be reached at (813) 661-2442 or srossetter@sptimes.com.

New election law still stings Hillsborough County's League of Women Voters 06/18/11 [Last modified: Saturday, June 18, 2011 11:03pm]
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