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AFL-CIO: Legislators Restricting Voter Access in Florida

April 20, 2009

Voter rights groups are criticizing Florida lawmakers for a move they've made in the waning days of the legislature regarding elections. They say a legislative committee rushed through what they claim are "the most sweeping elections reform bill in 100 years" with little debate or public input. Critics say the proposed law would restrict voter access to the process and erase reforms achieved since the 2000 presidential election debacle.

Rich Templin, executive director of the Florida AFL-CIO, says the committee vote came after less than six minutes of debate and 60 seconds of public input.

"They are certainly violating any premise of good government, any premise of open government, any premise of transparency, or the cornerstones of representative democracy."

The 82-page bill, which is expected to come to a full vote this week, proposes new restrictions on voter registration groups, making errors punishable with fines and jail time. It also would reduce the list of acceptable voter identification, and would restrict election protection efforts at the polls.

Templin calls the restrictions onerous. Facing possible jail time and the 48-hour turnaround on registrations required by the bill would force many groups to stop registering voters, he says, which would especially impact low-income, minority, and older citizens.

"This bill should really be called the Florida Democracy Reduction Act. It is designed to reduce people’s participation, to reduce people voting, and to reduce people’s access to the process."

The bill is unconstitutional, adds Templin, and if it passes, voter rights groups will take the matter to court.

"At a time we are in the middle of a budget crisis, the Florida Legislature is putting a law on the books they know is unconstitutional, that they know will be challenged, and that's going to be a huge expense to the taxpayer."

Republican legislators argue the bill is aimed at holding third-party registration groups more accountable and reducing voter fraud. Opponents worry the law will squash voter registration drives, which they say brought many new voters to the polls in 2008.

Gina Presson , Public News Service - FL