TALLAHASSEE — A Florida Panhandle teacher who registered students to vote but turned in their applications late may be fined for violating the state's new election law, which has drawn fire from critics who say it will suppress voting.
Secretary of State Kurt Browning asked Attorney General Pam Bondi to investigate and seek applicable fines in a letter Thursday.
Browning wrote that election officials in Santa Rosa County have documented 76 registration applications collected by the teacher that appear to have violated the law that went into effect this year.
It requires third parties to turn in applications to the county Supervisor of Elections Office within 48 hours of being collected. The old law had a 10-day deadline.
Each violation can result in a $50 fine, but no single individual or organization can be fined more than $1,000 in a year.
The letter says the unnamed Pace High School teacher has a history of violations.
"The circumstances of this case greatly concern me," Browning wrote.
He noted that the teacher reportedly said applications collected in April 2009 were not turned in until five months later because they were in her file cabinet over the summer break.
In 2008, one of her students was turned away from a polling place because she had not submitted his application before the registration books closed for that election, Browning wrote.
He added that the teacher registered with the state as a third-party voter registration organization in 2009 under the old law, which demonstrated an awareness of the law. Her registration, though, was canceled in August because she had not reregistered as required by the new law, he said.
Santa Rosa County superintendent Tim Wyrosdick did not return messages seeking comment that were left on his cell and home phone Friday night.
Browning spokesman Chris Cate said a teacher in New Smyrna Beach who also is suspected of violating the law likely will get only a warning because she has no prior violations.
As a result of that case's publicity, Democratic U.S. Sen. Bill Nelson urged Gov. Rick Scott in a letter to seek repeal or modification of the law.
"After this incident with the teacher, can anyone actually say we aren't taking a step backward in Florida when it comes to protecting one of our most fundamental rights?" Nelson wrote.
Cate said that teacher, Jill Cicciarelli, would have been in violation even of the previous 10-day requirement because she had let more than a month pass before turning in applications.
He noted that the fines were not changed by the new law.
More than two-dozen individuals and organizations have intervened in a federal court case opposing approval of four sections of the law, including the voter registration provision. They contend the law discriminates against minorities, students and the elderly.