State-sponsored infringement on the right to vote is not a new phenomenon in Florida. Indeed, Florida’s history of voting rights violations led Congress to require that five Florida counties seek pre-clearance by the U.S. Department of Justice or the U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia before any voting changes could go into effect. That history continues to play out until this day. In 2011, Governor Rick Scott and the Florida legislature enacted a number of vote suppressive measures that threaten to deny the vote to African American and Latino citizens.
HB 1355, the most egregious of these recent measures, was signed into law on May 19, 2011. It imposed severe new restrictions on voter registration drives conducted by community organizations and shortened the state’s 14-day early voting period to 8 days, disallowing early voting on the Sunday before Election Day. These two changes can be expected to severely curtail opportunities to vote.
Under the new rules for so-called “third-party” voter registration, groups conducting community voter registration drives must deliver each completed voter registration application to county election officials within 48 hours of being signed by the applicant, or face stiff civil penalties and fines. These new restrictions have led the Florida League of Women Voters and other community groups to suspend voter registration activities in the state, fearing that HB 1355 would unfairly expose their staff and volunteers to prosecution and penalties. The new law’s likely disparate impact on Florida residents of color is clear. African American and Latino citizens in Florida are more than twice as likely to register to vote through community voter registration drives as white voters.