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  1. Opinion

Editorial: Governor should not block online voter registration

Just once, it would be nice if Gov. Rick Scott would be more interested in encouraging Floridians to vote than in suppressing the turnout. Now he is opposing legislation backed by county supervisors of elections that would enable residents to register to vote online. There is no reasonable justification for his objections, and the Legislature should move forward with this commonsense change.

Secretary of State Ken Detzner, the state's top elections official who was appointed by Scott, called online registration a "flashing yellow light" at a Senate subcommittee hearing this week. The Scott administration claims the change would be too risky. What risks? Twenty states have online voter registration, and four more are working to make it happen. There are no reports of widespread fraud in the states that have made the change. And county elections supervisors reasonably have concluded that Florida could make this work without jeopardizing the integrity of the elections system.

The legislation (SB 7064, HB 1161) would have the same identity checks as the current system. Applicants still would be required to identify themselves by providing a Florida driver's license or identification number, and the state would verify the information as it does now to confirm names and dates of birth. The only real difference is that residents could send the information online rather than be forced to fill out a voter registration form, print it out and mail it or drop it off at a county elections office. Think of all of the other applications and financial transactions Floridians make every day online, and it's difficult to imagine why they cannot register to vote without printing out a form and hand-delivering it to a government office.

It's bad enough that the legislation has been changed at Detzner's request to give the state until 2017 to create a secure system for online voter registration, skipping the 2016 presidential election. Now Detzner is raising concerns about computer malfunctions and cyber attacks that could lead to voter fraud. Surely those security concerns have nothing to do with Scott's potential interest in running for the U.S. Senate in 2018 and making sure voter rolls don't keep adding younger, more racially diverse Floridians who might not share the conservative Republican's political views.

Let's remember the last time Scott was this concerned about voter fraud. He embarked on a flawed effort before the 2012 election to purge the voter rolls of nonresidents, starting with a bad list of 180,000 suspect voters based on driver's license data that was ultimately reduced to 198. Only 85 voters or so were eventually removed from the rolls, and county elections supervisors objected to the entire fiasco. A federal court ruled the state violated federal law that bans the "systematic" removal of voters from the rolls less than 90 days before an election. Scott decided last month not to appeal the court ruling, but apparently the only lesson the governor learned is that it would be easier to keep it inconvenient to register to vote in the first place.

This is not the first time Scott has tried to make it harder to vote. In 2011, he signed into law changes that reduced early voting days in a clear attempt to suppress the vote. After a public outcry, the 2013 Legislature overturned many of those changes.

State lawmakers should listen to the supervisors of elections rather than the governor. A Senate appropriations subcommittee this week unanimously approved online voter registration, and the Legislature should make it easier for Floridians to participate in the electoral process. If it works in Georgia, South Carolina and Louisiana, surely it can work here.

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