Saturday, January 20, 2018
Politics

PolitiFact Florida: Top Florida Republican overstates number of active voter registration groups

Controversial changes to state elections law and a recent move by Gov. Rick Scott to purge voting rolls of potential non-U.S. citizens have once again thrust Florida's elections process into the national spotlight.

The attention and debate have produced ample fodder for PolitiFact Florida.

In a recent opinion piece published in the Orlando Sentinel, Republican Party of Florida chairman Lenny Curry added his voice to those championing Florida's elections reform.

Curry, along with state GOP lawmakers, say the changes were designed to guard against voter fraud and to ensure that ballots cast by eligible voters are not diminished.

In particular, Curry singled out a change to state law pertaining to how third-party groups register new voters.

The changes require the groups to register with the state, better track their registration efforts and return completed registration forms within 48 hours. If the groups fail to meet the 48-hour deadline, they face steep fines.

Democrats, the League of Women Voters and other groups say the law disenfranchises third-party organizations and makes it more difficult for Floridians to register to vote.

Last week, a federal judge at least partially agreed — barring enforcement of the 48-hour deadline and calling it "harsh and impractical."

Curry disagrees.

Groups are actively registering people to vote under the new law, he says. His evidence: "More than 250 groups, ranging across the entire political spectrum, have filed with the state and are registering voters right now."

We decided that claim was worth a fact-check. We started with the Department of State, which keeps track of third-party voter registration organizations.

State data shows more than 250 organizations signed up to register voters, 293 to be exact. And the groups cross political (and life) spectrums, from the Pinellas Democratic Party and the South Florida Tea Party to groups called the "American Baptists," "American Multi-millionaires," "American Film Stars" and the "National Organization for Reform of Marijuana Laws."

But are all those groups active as Curry contends?

Not exactly.

To date, 136 of the 293 organizations have signed up one or more voters. The rest haven't registered anyone to vote, and in most cases, haven't even requested voter registration forms.

The biggest groups registering voters are the Florida Democratic Party, the Republican Party of Florida, Miami-Dade County Public Schools and America First, an organization created to protect the U.S. Constitution. Latino organizations such as the National Council of La Raza and Democracia USA also registered thousands of voters.

Those six groups made up almost 90 percent of the submitted applications, according to the state's data.

Chris Cate, spokesman for the Department of State, said all third-party groups registered with the state after the law took effect — which implies they plan to sign up voters before the November general election.

"Just because the groups haven't registered voters yet doesn't mean they couldn't go out and register voters this weekend," Cate said.

Curry didn't return phone calls. But RPOF spokeswoman Kristen McDonald wrote in an email "whether or not each of the 250 groups is out registering voters every day is beside the point — they all have the ability to do so at any time."

Steve Tauber, a professor of American government at the University of South Florida, argues the number of registered organizations proves nothing about the possible chilling effect of the new law.

Organizations will not know if they can process voting forms within 48 hours until they deal with a high volume of voters — closer to the general election, Tauber said.

Our ruling

Lenny Curry argued that more than 250 groups are actively registering voters from across the political spectrum, and "are registering voters right now."

Curry is basically correct about the number of groups that signed up with the state to register voters and continue to file monthly paperwork to stay active.

But he's wrong to say they're actively registering voters.

Less than half of those groups have registered a single voter since the law took effect, and six groups have registered nearly 90 percent of all voters so far.

Furthermore, the statement's intent was to illustrate the ease of complying with the law, a measure that won't be clear until election season is in full swing.

On balance, we rate this claim Half True.

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

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