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A Times Editorial

Florida still erecting roadblocks to voting

Florida is not a particularly friendly state to people who want to vote. Earlier this year, it was named "the most hostile state in the nation to new voters" by three voting rights advocacy groups. While new legislation and voting rules have helped to reduce some of the biggest obstacles, there remain serious concerns about the state's misplaced priorities.

For example, Monday is the deadline to register to vote in the Nov. 4 election. That's an unreasonably early deadline, but state law says residents must register at least 29 days before an election in order to vote. Other states such as Maine and Minnesota allow citizens to register and vote on the same day. With the ability to tap into electronic databases to verify people's identity and eligibility, there is no need to require registration so far in advance.

Florida also has an unreasonable "no match-no vote" law that seems designed to deny as many citizens as possible the ability to register. Originally, if a computer determined that a registrant's voter registration application did not perfectly match his Social Security or Florida driver's license information, the registration was invalid and little effort was made to double-check. Problems as simple as having the name "William" on one's identification but writing down "Bill" on the registration form was enough to throw it into doubt.

To add to this unfairness, the law blocked people from making corrections to their registration forms after the registration window closed. Even if there were weeks to go before an election, the unverified registrant was out of luck and disenfranchised. The law kept thousands of Floridians from voting, affecting a disproportionate number of African-Americans and Hispanics. It raised suspicions that the Republican-dominated Legislature was purposely adding roadblocks to voting for these voters, who tend to be Democrats.

Now, due to legislative tinkering and protocols instituted by Secretary of State Kurt Browning, the law at least operates a bit more sensibly — but only a bit. As of Sept. 8, when a registration form fails to match, it is sent to an office in the state's Division of Elections for an individual review. This should rectify some "no-match" problems, catching people whose names were misspelled or had an identification number inaccurately input.

If verification is still not possible, the registrations are sent to the respective county supervisor of elections, who then mails notice letters to those unverified registrants. The voter is told to provide the elections supervisor with a copy of his driver's license, Social Security card or state identification card, a step that can be accomplished by mail, e-mail, fax, or in person. Now the verification can occur up to Election Day.

But there is still an untenable roadblock: Voters cannot resolve a discrepancy on Election Day and cast a valid vote on the spot, even if they produce a driver's license or passport. Instead, the voter would be given a provisional ballot and would have to get a copy of his or her driver's license or Social Security card to the election supervisor's office within two days of the election for the vote to count. That is too burdensome and guarantees perhaps thousands of provisional ballots will not be counted in a tight election year.

Florida's notorious past with its faulty felons' list, barriers to civil rights restoration for ex-felons and hostility to voter drives has given the state a well-deserved reputation as one determined to tamp down the vote of disadvantaged populations. Some of the new rules for November's presidential election are a step in the right direction, but the no match-no vote law should be repealed.

Florida still erecting roadblocks to voting 09/30/08 [Last modified: Sunday, October 5, 2008 9:40am]
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