Florida, long regarded as a political battleground state, decided the 2000 presidential election results in favor of Republican George W. Bush. In 2008, Florida voters were crucial to presidential elections results when Democrat Obama narrowly defeated Republican McCain in the Sunshine State. (See Why Red States Turned Blue in 2008 - Florida.)
Other states with major voting law changes in 2011 include Wisconsin, Ohio, Kansas and Texas.
Florida Voting Law Changes in 2011
- Cutting Early Voting - The Florida legislature cut early voting from 14 days to 7 days before the election, despite wide-spread popularity for it among Florida voters.
"In the 2008 presidential election, about a third of those who cast ballots did so in early voting... Post-election analysis showed that early voters were particularly important to Democrats, helping presidential candidate Barack Obama carry the state," per NPR.
- Restricting Voter Registration Drives - The Florida legislature moved to restrict voter registration drives by chopping the number of days, from ten to two, between the time a voter registers and that registration is submitted to the appropriate County Registrar's office.
Per The Miami Herald, "It's one of several changes in the law that critics say are designed to suppress voting by minorities, young people and the elderly, voter groups that traditionally lean Democratic. The law's sponsors say the revisions are needed to prevent voting fraud."
"In 2008, 2.13 million voters registered in Florida and, very conservatively, at least 8.24 percent or 176,000 of them did so through drives," per the Brennan Center for Justice at New York University.
In Florida, public high school teachers have commonly held voter registration drives for their students. Many Florida teachers believe this new law discourages registration of young voters, most who lean Democratic.
For example, government teacher Dawn Quarles of Pace High School in the Florida panhandle, "said 48 hours isn't enough time to get the forms mailed to the Santa Rosa County elections supervisor's office in nearby Milton," per The Miami Herald.
- Failure to Restore Rights to Disenfranchised Voters In 2011, Florida has "made it substantially more difficult or impossible for people with past felony convictions to get their voting rights restored" in time for the November 2012 elections, per per the Brennan Center for Justice at New York University.
Continues the Brennan Center, "Up to one million people in Florida could have benefited from the prior practice; based on the rates of restoration in Florida under the prior policy, 100,000 citizens likely would have gotten their rights restored by 2012."
On November 3, 2011, U.S. Sen. Bill Nelson of Florida, a Democrat, requested that U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder investigate to determine if new state voting laws "resulted from collusion or an orchestrated effort to limit voter turnout." Wrote Sen. Nelson to Attorney General Holder:
"I have just written a letter to U.S. Sen. Richard Durbin of Illinois who chairs the Senate Judiciary subcommittee on the Constitution, Civil Rights and Human Rights. I have asked Sen. Durbin’s subcommittee to conduct a congressional investigation to see if Florida’s new election law is linked to the efforts to pass similar voting restrictions in 14 states so far this year.
"The changes mostly involve new ID requirements, shorter early voting periods and new restrictions on third parties who sign up new voters. In Florida, the League of Women Voters considered these restrictions so egregious it abandoned its registration drives after 72 years, and teachers there are running afoul of the law for the way they sign up students to vote... "