By Howard Goodman
Florida Center for Investigative Reporting
Here in the state that set the bar for suspicious elections, the Republican-led legislature and Republican governor took pains last year to clamp down on third-party voter registration drives.
Supposedly, they wanted to cut down on voter fraud. But does anyone with a memory of the 2000 presidential recount really think these measures were about anything other than keeping Democratic-leaning constituencies away from the polls?
The restrictions were so severe that Rock The Vote, the League of Women Voters and the Florida Public Interest Research Group Education Fund had to suspend their voter-registration efforts. Florida Public Interest Research Group Education Fund filed suit in December to block the law from going into effect.
Today, a federal judge in Tallahassee will hear the case.
“In states around the country, we’re witnessing the most significant assault on voting rights in a generation,” said Heather Smith, president of Rock The Vote, which works to engage young people in the political process, often through alliances with musicians.
“It’s incredibly anti-American and undemocratic,” she said on a conference call covered by Politico.
Some 14 states passed laws or issued executive orders last year making it harder to register or to vote. The laws — some requiring voters to produce approved forms of ID, others shortening early-voting periods — hit hardest on minority, young and low-income voters.
According to the Brennan Center for Justice at New York University School of Law, 5 million eligible voters might find it “significantly harder” to cast ballots in 2012. The states that cut back on voting rights represent 171 electoral votes, 63 percent of the 270 needed to win the presidency.
“This wave of changes may sharply tilt the political terrain for the 2012 election,” the nonpartisan law center says.
“At the forefront of the don’t-get-out-the-vote movement is Florida,” writes Andrew Rosenthal, the New York Times‘ editorial page editor, “which I suppose isn’t that surprising given the state’s inability to count the votes that were cast in 2000… Maybe Florida policy-makers have grown to love the feeling of international mockery.”
The complaint, spelling out the details of the Florida restrictions and their impact on voting registration, is here.
As it states, the legislature and Gov. Rick Scott were interested not in the contrived issue of voter fraud, but in making it harder for people to vote:
Senator Michael Bennett, President Pro Tempore of the Florida Senate and one of the most vocal supporters of the Law, stated: “I want the people in the State of Florida to want to vote as badly as that person in Africa who is willing to walk 200 miles for that opportunity he’s never had before in his life. This should not be easy.”
Also on yesterday’s conference call was Anna Eskamani, a student at the University of Central Florida.
“What my fellow students and I are wondering is, ‘Why, instead of helping students to vote, are our elected officials spending their time trying to stop us from voting?’” said Eskamani, who is associated with Rock the Vote.
“We should be trying to encourage our students and young people to vote, not deterring them and making the process more difficult.”