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Florida Republicans are pushing more restrictions around voting

With an American flag in the background, a finger hold a sticker that reads "I Tried to Vote"
Steve Heap/steheap
Democrats say the legislation would curb voter registration efforts, especially for people of color and returning felons.

Despite a series of problem-free elections in Florida, proposed legislation would create more restrictions around the voting process. Republicans want to add to already-restrictive election laws that have been strengthened in recent years.

“Florida has been a model of election integrity and efficiency, but there’s always room for improvement,” said Rep. Lawrence McClure, R-Dover. He told the House State Affairs Committee that his bill, consisting of 108 pages, will increase transparency.

Voter-registration groups would face bigger fines for failing to deliver voter applications to election supervisors on time, and the groups must provide receipts to voters when their application is collected. Non-citizens and certain felons working with voter registration groups would be barred from collecting or handling applications.

“We have to really think about the intent and impact of our legislation. This is a disenfranchisement of Floridians from the voting process,” said Rep. Ashley Gantt, D-Miami.

Democrats say the legislation would curb voter registration efforts, especially for people of color and felons who have completed their sentences.

Gantt unsuccessfully proposed an amendment that woud allow would-be voters to register when they show up to vote. She asked Secretary of State Cord Byrd if he would consider such a move in cases where third party groups fail to submit registration forms on time.

“Would you be amenable or supportive of same day registration in those cases?” Gantt asked.

“No,” Byrd replied. “That would be a terrible idea because it undermines our very ability to verify whether or not those individuals are eligible to register to vote. We would not be able to process that information with same day voter registration.”

Most of the comments and discussion came from those opposed to the bill.

“It really creates a chilling effect,” said Rep. Robin Bartleman, D-Weston. “If your intended purpose is to stop people from registering people who need assistance, you’re going to do that with this bill. So I will be down on this bill because my goal is to eliminate hurdles to get people to vote.”

In public testimony, former Democratic state Senator Dwight Bullard spoke against the bill. He is a political advisor for Florida Rising, a group that advocates for marginalized communities.

“Secretary of State’s own admission,” Bullard said, “there isn’t some rampant voter fraud problem that exists and therefore deems the changes in this bill absolutely unnecessary at this current moment in time.”

Bullard says felons who finished their prison time and are eligible to vote under the state constitution still don’t have a clear pathway for having their voting rights restored. He wants the bill to address that. Then, he gave this parting shot: “Just anecdotally, with the passage of this bill, it would now be harder to register to vote than to acquire an AR-15.”

He was alluding to legislation recently passed, also disliked by Democrats, that reduces gun restrictions.

The House bill and a similar version in the Senate are working through committees.

Gina Jordan is the host of Morning Edition for WFSU News. Gina is a Tallahassee native and graduate of Florida State University. She spent 15 years working in news/talk and country radio in Orlando before becoming a reporter and All Things Considered host for WFSU in 2008. Follow Gina: @hearyourthought on Twitter. Click below for Gina's full bio.