Why registering voters for 2024 elections just got harder
Editor in Chief
Monday, October 9, 2023
Power to the People's graphic shows the new forms that third-party voter registration organizations must now utilize to register voters.
Updated Oct. 13, 2023
Registering voters ahead of next year’s municipal elections and the presidential election got harder last week for the people who run third-party voter registration organizations (3PVROs).
These are groups, like When We All Vote, League of Women Voters, Rock the Vote and Mi Familia Vota that work outside of government agencies that offer voter registration (Department of Motor Vehicles, state agencies that provide public assistance, public libraries and military recruitment offices), to ensure that everyone eligible to vote is registered to vote.
But new rules went into effect Oct. 1, mandating that 3PRVO staff give each voter a receipt after they’ve registered. Staff must also sign affidavits attesting that they are U.S. citizens and have no felony convictions, even if they've had their voting rights restored. The rules are part of Senate Bill 7050, passed during the last legislative session to protect against election fraud. The Tampa Bay Times reported that Gov. Ron DeSantis said the new law would restore election confidence. The state has been unable to find evidence of widespread election fraud.
In April, leaders of 35 3PVROs wrote in a joint letter to Senate President Kathleen Passidomo and House Speaker Paul Renner that the new requirements were so “harsh that the impact would be a gutting of community-based voter registration in Florida.”
“Every year they make it worse and worse and harder and harder,” Cecile Scoon, co-president of the League of Women Voters Florida, said in a phone interview.
“These new forms will further burden 3PVROs like us because of the additional time they will take to complete, the necessary training for volunteers and our team to learn this new process, and the financial resources it takes for the additional supply need,” Allison Minnerly, communications director for Power to the People, wrote in an email to VoxPopuli. Minnerly added that while Power to the People is still using paper forms, they're planning to test registering voters with tablets in Orlando. "It's important to meet people where they are at," she said.
More burdensome, according to some organization leaders, is the increase in annual fines that can be imposed for errors and violations, like writing in a former address if a voter recently moved or misreading the form and writing "USA" instead of "Orange" on the line for "county." In 2021, the election law SB 90 increased the amount 3PVROs could be fined each year from $1000 to $50,000. This year, SB 7050 raised that to $250,000.
The equal rights advocacy group Equal Ground abandoned paper registration forms after the first fine increase in 2021 and and now registers voters only through its digital voter registration portal.
“This makes it nearly impossible for organizations like mine and similar groups to conduct paper voter registration collection without the fear of being fined at a rate that could ultimately bankrupt us,” Jasmine Burney-Clark, Equal Ground executive director, wrote in an email to VoxPopuli.
Voter registration is part of its core mission, but the League of Women Voters Florida shifted focus away from directly registering voters this year, Scoon said, to assisting voters to register themselves via smart phones or tablets. League volunteers in some counties, including Orange, will have paper forms on hand when they go to events for people who aren't comfortable registering online. But unlike previous years when volunteers would collect the forms and deliver them to the Supervisor of Elections or Division of Elections, voters will be given stamped envelops this year to mail the forms themselves.
That's to avoid the fines, Scoon said. "When you're not collecting the paper forms, you're not under the requirements and prohibitions."
Restrictions on who can handle the paper registration forms — U.S. citizens and those without prior felony convictions — substantially narrows the pool of volunteers available to organizations that operate, especially during election season, on volunteer labor.
"This seems like a highly targeted effort to suppress voter registration efforts that are aimed at engaging certain voters," Brad Ashwell, director of All Voting Is Local Florida told VoxPopuli via email.
"The non-citizen restriction prohibits community organizations from employing or using volunteers who are non-US citizens to register voters even when these people are legally allowed to work in the U.S.," Ashwell continued. "This segment of the workforce is often best able to connect with potential voters that face language barriers or need assistance navigating the election process. The felon restriction appears to be a continuation of the many efforts to undermine Amendment 4. In this case, they’re making it harder for groups to use peer-to-peer organizing, one of the best and most time-tested practices for voter registration efforts for any constituency."
3PVRO leaders are concerned this requirement could ultimately depress minority registration. A 2021 University of Florida study found that Black and Latino voters are five times more likely to register to vote via 3PVRO than white voters.
"So when you put the squeeze on those organizations, it's going to have a direct impact on the minority," Scoon said.
“Many voters have their first introduction to civic engagement through voter registration, and more than likely they’re being registered by a trusted messenger or leader in their community,” Burney-Clark said in her email. “This prohibition signals what Florida officials know is possible and that is silencing a community of people who are directly impacted by the systems of this state from being able to actively participate in it through the simple act of voter registration."
Plus, when SB 7050 was passed, these new requirements were touted as election security enhancements. Ashwell and 3PVRO leaders don't believe these requirements prevent fraud or improve security and may put election workers at risk.
Republican state Rep. Doug Bankson, who represents parts of Winter Garden, did not respond to an email request for comment about whether these requirements improve election security.
"The receipts create another layer of work for organizations, add no protection for voters, and could potentially scare volunteers off if the state uses the receipts to go after specific individuals who may have only made a mistake. It’s also easy to imagine how some might use the receipts to falsely incriminate those registering voters," Ashwell said in his email.
"If they had wanted to help voters, they would allow voters who discover their application wasn’t turned in to use a receipt to register even if it was the day of the election. Suggestions such as this were shut down immediately in the legislature."