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PolitiFact: MSNBC's Chris Matthews gets details of Florida voting law wrong

Count MSNBC's Chris Matthews among those who think a new voting law passed in Florida in 2011 is bad public policy.

On his show Hardball, Matthews discussed the law — in particular, a requirement that voter registration groups return signed applications within 48 hours or face fines — with Lenny Curry, the Republican Party of Florida chairman, and Judith Browne-Dianis, co-director of a civil rights group called the Advancement Project.

Matthews and his guests were discussing U.S. District Judge Robert Hinkle's decision last month to deem the 48-hour rule unconstitutional.

"He said — quote — '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,' " Matthews said, quoting Hinkle.

From there, Matthews dressed down Curry, saying the law makes it impossible, in some cases, for voter registration groups to meet that deadline.

Matthews: "Lenny Curry, you're the chair of the Republican Party down there. Was the intention to suppress the vote down there, as Judith says, or it had some other purpose? Why would you set a requirement you got to get your petitions in, in 48 hours? Why did you set such a requirement and a law?"

Curry: "No, there was no intention to suppress the vote."

Matthews: "Well, why would you make such a deadline, a two-day deadline to get the petitions in?"

Curry: "In my view, the deadline seemed reasonable. The judge struck that part of the law down. A majority of the law stands, which will create …"

Matthews: "Well, wait a minute. I'm going to call you there because everybody watching can figure this one out. If I'm working in front of a Safeway somewhere and I'm collecting registrations — I'm registering people who aren't registered — and it's Friday afternoon at 5 p.m., I can't even technically turn those in until Monday. That means it's already elapsed, the 48 hours.

"So, under the law, nothing I get done late Friday afternoon is of any value and probably some of the stuff early Saturday morning. The 48-hour rule basically makes it impossible to meet the deadline if you're working right to the end of the week, right, Lenny?"

Matthews was relentless about his point. But he is also incorrect.

We read the bill (HB 1355) that passed the Legislature in 2011 and was signed into law by Gov. Rick Scott.

The 158-page bill does indeed create a 48-hour deadline for voter groups to turn in completed registrations. But there's a caveat.

According to the law, a completed application "shall be promptly delivered to the division or the supervisor of elections within 48 hours after the applicant completes it or the next business day if the appropriate office is closed for that 48-hour period."

Put plainly, if someone is registering voters on a Friday evening — as Matthews said — he or she would have until Monday to turn in the completed forms. If Monday was a holiday, the deadline would be extended until Tuesday. And so on.

There's no doubt the deadlines were deterring groups from going out to register voters. After the law's passage, the League of Women Voters said it wouldn't conduct its usual voter registration drives because the requirements were too difficult to meet.

But Matthews said that Florida's 2011 voting law made it impossible for third-party groups to register voters on Friday afternoon, because a 48-hour deadline to turn in those applications would expire before the elections office opens Monday morning.

That's not correct. The law factored in weekends and holidays and gave voter registration groups until the next business day. We rate Matthews' claim False.

PolitiFact Florida is partnering with 10 News for the 2012 election. See video fact-checks at PolitiFact.com/Florida.

The statement

Under Florida's voting law, a requirement to turn in voter registrations within 48 hours "makes it impossible to meet the deadline if you're working right to the end of the week."

Chris Matthews, in comments on MSNBC's Hardball

The ruling

PolitiFact ruling: False
The law factors in weekends and holidays, and allows people to turn in applications past the 48-hour-window if the elections office is closed. We rate Matthews' claim False.

PolitiFact: MSNBC's Chris Matthews gets details of Florida voting law wrong 06/17/12 [Last modified: Sunday, June 17, 2012 10:34pm]

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